As a student, when responding “winemaking” to the general conversation starter of “What do you do for a living?”, you are always guaranteed some sort of hilarious interrogation fired by stargazed disbelief. The excitement, however, is usually short-lived and comes to a dramatic cessation with the introduction of any scientific terminology. In spirit of these conversations and for the sake of those sensationalist individuals that were hooked on every word rolling from my wine stained teeth, I have decided to spill the juice on what really happens behind the scenes.
Being Stellenbosch students, we have all been around the block and back in supporting our local fermented beverage suppliers, but no amount of indulgence requires quite the endurance of a three hour wine tasting practical for academic purposes. After four years of training, we seem to have mastered this tough skill and most of us have become fit tasters. However, when tasting in the lightweight division in the second year of our quest towards becoming world famous winemakers, it was a completely different story.
Weekly, every Tuesday morning at 10am, our young, untried pallets would be exposed to a range of wines from different wine producing countries. The range was extensive, the presentations long and we were thirsty. That is for knowledge, of course. They had everything a young, eager wine enthusiast could dream of and more. There were cultivars we have never heard of and wines we will probably never have the opportunity to taste again. To spit or to swallow, that was the looming question and when you are sipping away on some of the finest, world renowned wines which have travelled great lengths to meet you, the answer is simple.
Why on earth would this be a problem? Because after our three hour wine tasting practical, would follow the notorious three-hour, second-year Biochemistry practical; a subject endeavoured by many, yet conquered by few. There is no explanation for this disaster other than the sneaky plotting between some twisted senses of humour in our Oenology and Biochemistry faculties.
As my traditional tasting notes progressed from something along the lines of “Cigarbox Cabernet laced with opulent blackberry and a hint of pepper” to “Get in my belly”, Biochemistry practical was nearing. We would walk out of that practical as if we saw the sun for the first time, blind yet buzzing. Our lab coats would act as some sort of invisibility cloak as we made our way to the JC Smuts building on the complete opposite side of campus, on full tanks, to join our fellow aspiring scientists in performing experiments on what seemed like instruments for ants. My logical mind stood no chance and to add the cherry to the already VERY fruity dish, the slow moving chaos was echoed by ABBA’s greatest hits album playing in the background, literally, week after week, after week …
Even though the memory of Biochemistry is vague, we were a handful that were able to experience the brighter side of science, thanks to some comical course coordinating and our inquisitive taste buds. How wonderful is wine?