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Mahalia Kotjane: A Cape Winemakers' Guild Protégé Perfecting Excellence
published on:

There is a beautiful phrase in isiZulu that resonates with me deeply. The phrase “izandla ziyagezana” means ‘one hand washes the other’. It is as proverbial as it is profound.

The symbiotic act of one hand embracing the other reminds me of the way that a hand embraces a vine when planting in the vineyard.

Without the guiding hand that keeps a young vine upright as it is lowered into the ground, the nascent vine could easily enter the ground lopsided or fall onto its side like a newborn giraffe learning to walk.

The trellising system that creates a system of order is as pivotal to the guidance of the network of vines as the hand that initially provides support during the planting process.

The Cape Winemakers' Guild provides a vital trellis to a group of budding winemakers and viticulturists.

Founded in 2006, The Cape Winemakers' Guild Protégé Program symbolically washes one hand with the other. Aspirant winemakers are given the rare opportunity to work alongside and be mentored by members of the Guild over a three year internship. The Viticulture Protégé Program, launched by the Guild in partnership with Vinpro in 2014 gives newly graduated viticulturists practical training over a two and a half year internship.

The  Guild’s Protégé Programs are a vivid representation of the proverb ‘izandla ziyangezana’. Through the act of mentorship, the masterful Guild members and their hard-working protégés are actively transforming the industry and transferring vital skills in a sustainable and meaningful manner.

Over the past few years, I have attended several Cape Winemakers' Guild showcases and have had the pleasure of meeting several CWG Protégés, including Heinrich Kulsen – a graduate of the CWG Protégé Program and the current assistant red winemaker at Nederburg. I have also met Mahalia Kotjane (nee Matshete), who is currently participating in the program. Twenty successful Protégés have participated in the program to date. At present, seven Oenology Protégés are enrolled in the program and two Viticulture Protégés are in the care of this supportive trellis network.

In conversation in Mahalia, I explored what the CWG Protégé program tastes like from the inside.

Mahalia first heard about the program in her second year at Elsenburg when Magda Vorster, the CWG Protégé Programme Facilitator came to present the CWG Protégé Programme to Elsenburg students.

But Mahalia fell in love with wine-making long before that moment.

“My wine love affair began after a high school project,” Mahalia says.

“We were being introduced to Biotechnology and we had the vast option to choose from yoghurt-making, cheese making, beer brewing  - and I decided to do my project on wine-making,” she expands.

“I then went to the supermarket and bought table grapes, crushed them in a 750ml jar and placed it in a dark cardboard and waited to see what would happen.”

“A few days later the grapes were forming and covered in mist - they were fermenting!” she explains. “I then decided that this I what I wanted to pursue.”

The Protégés have recently had the opportunity to barrel their first vintage.

“I had the wonderful opportunity of making my first wine, which is a Shiraz,” Mahalia says.

“The process entailed plenty of planning and a clear vision of what one wants to make,” she says. “Coupled with plenty of excitement and anticipation.”

But wine-making is not without its challenges.

“In my opinion, adapting and adjusting to climate change is a continuous challenge as it is so unpredictable,” Mahalia says.

“In the past two years we have witnessed how the severe drought has indirectly influenced our wine-making techniques, for example,” she expands.

Some of the winemakers that Mahalia admires are Marc Kent, Carl Schultz and Zelma Long.

Over her tenure as a CWG Protégé Mahalia says that some of her highlights include travelling internationally for her first international harvest, making her first wine and attending technical tastings with Guild members where the protégés have the opportunity to learn and benchmark their palates.

She has also appreciated the opportunity to be mentored by some of South Africa’s most celebrated winemakers.

Mahalia has been mentored by JD Pretorius at Steenberg Wine Estate in Constantia. JD Pretorius was the 2014 Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year winner for the 2012 Steenberg Merlot.

“My highlight definitely has to be witnessing JD’s wine-making technique and approach,” Mahalia says. “He lets wine do what it needs to do with minimal interference.“

Mahalia also had the opportunity to do her first international harvest in Burgundy, France.

“Not only that.,” she expands, “We got to tour and visit other wine regions such as Champagne., Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley. It was absolutely fabulous.”

For Mahalia, the most rewarding aspect of being a winemaker is getting to witness and experience the beauty of wine.

“Wine is an ever-changing product it evolves every day,” Mahalia says. “We get to experience it unfold and blossom.”

Mahalia’s Five Favourite Wines
Hartenberg Gravel Hill
Steenberg Chardonnay MCC
Ernie Els Proprietors Syrah
Boschkloof Epilogue
Chateau la Nerth

Plan Your Cape Winemakers Guild Calendar
17 August 2017 : Nedbank CWG Showcase Cape Town
22 August 2017 : Nedbank CWG Auction Tasting Pretoria
23 August 2017 : Nedbank CWG Showcase Johannesburg
27 September 2017 : Nedbank CWG Auction Dinners
28 September 2017 : CWG Golf Day
29 September 2017 : Cape Winemakers' Guild Final Pre-Auction Tasting
30 September 2017 : Nedbank CWG Auction


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Proprietor: E. Els & H. Von Staff-Reitzenstein - Directors: S. Makin, E. Oblowitz, M. Sander, L. Strydom, H. Von Staff-Reitzenstein, J. Von Staff-Reitzenstein