Working together to improve South African consumers’ wine appreciation skills!

Valeria Panzeri - 05 Apr 2016

The time is right for the wine industry and its research partners to join forces in encouraging the growing South African middle class to appreciate wine. The vast majority of South African consumers have always seemed to prefer a cold beer or a ready-to drink-spirit cooler to a glass of wine. Wine is often perceived as a sophisticated, complex and intricate drink that requires a deep knowledge, which allows you to discuss it in public even before you could actually get to taste it or offer it to your guests.

International markets for South African wine are very challenging, and the competition is huge. The domestic consumer market for wine is almost completely untapped, but great opportunities for the wine producers lay ahead. The socio-economic status of the population is improving and the working class is gradually increasing their LSM (Living Standards Measure) status, allowing for more money to be spent in the consumption of non-essential goods (BFAP, 2013). As wine is seen as an aspirational product, it is encouraging for SA wine producers to see that there have been notable increases in the middle class and upper income segments within our domestic market. There have also been notable increases in the number of black consumers entering the upper LSM levels.

The task is challenging, but if the wine industry is to grow, different role players will need to come together in a concerted effort in the next few years to move consumer’s preferences towards wine. The Department of Viticulture and Oenology (DVO) in conjunction with the IGWS (Institute for Grape and Wine Sciences) is hoping to help Industry to tackle one facet of the challenge: boosting people’s confidence and technical tasting skills to transform them into wine enthusiasts and ambassadors.

To this end, Stellenbosch University has launched a brand new short course, ‘Aroma training for wine evaluation’, aimed at the general public. In one semester (14 hours of practical/contact classes) the module teaches the participants to recognise more than one hundred wine related aromas, evaluate wine from a sensorial point of view as well as detect faults in wine. The teaching is based on a ‘frequency of citation’ method developed by Dominique Valentin, an associate professor in cognitive psychology, from the National Superior Institute of Food and Environmental Sciences (AgroSup) of Dijon (France) and integrated with the expertise and knowledge of the academic and technical staff of the Sensory Lab of DVO of Stellenbosch University.

The course has been tested over the last two years, with about 120 people already trained coming from different cultures, ages and professional backgrounds. During the yearly feedback sessions, the participants told us how the course has given them the confidence to enjoy, talk and become ambassadors of wine in their communities.

Another important ‘wine appreciation’ initiative that the Sensory Facility has been involved with since 2013, is the training of twenty five young previously disadvantaged adults from the Pinotage Youth Development Academy ( in Wine Sensory Evaluation, and also Wine Trade Aspects. This has proved very successful, with the Sensory input being cited as one of the most value-adding aspects of their course. These young people go back to their communities as ‘ambassadors for wine’, and many of them are very keen to start their own small businesses selling wine locally.

‘TCA Sensitivity Screening’ is an additional initiative launched early in 2015 as collaboration between IGWS, the Sensory Lab of DVO and the TCA Laboratory. This half day event is aimed at offering the industry members (winemakers, tasting room assistants, wine judges, etc.) the opportunity to be tested in their ability to recognise ‘cork taint’ in white and red wines and obtain a report that certifies such talent. Screenings are set to take place every last Thursday of the month between 10:00 and 12:00 in the sensory laboratory of the University of Stellenbosch (the outcome of the individual performances will be treated with extreme confidentiality).The screening has already received positive feedbacks and it is seen as a model on which build future screenings on other issues, such as ‘Brettanomyces spoilage’ or oxidation, just to mention few.

It is hoped that these initiatives will have impacts at various levels: they will begin the important task of promoting ‘wine appreciation’ among different cultures and communities by stimulating word-of-mouth communication; they will build a wider platform of wine tasting rooms personnel knowledgeable and confident; they will endorse the level of professionalism and excellence of our industry judges as individuals in the eyes of the world wide wine community.

For more details regarding the ‘Aroma training for wine evaluation’ course and to register for TCA Sensitivity Screenings: MS Valeria Panzeri, phone 021 808 2671 or;


Bureau for Food and Agriculture Baseline Analysis 2013:

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