Winemakers believe own experience is most important source of knowledge

Own experience is the most important way of gaining knowledge, say winemakers. It plays a bigger role than the results received from wine laboratories and is rated even more important than formal training.

Dr Nelius Boshoff found that wine farmers believe their own experience is the most important way of obtaining knowledge. Photo: Stephanie Nieuwoudt

Dr Nelius Boshoff found that wine farmers believe their own experience is the most important way of obtaining knowledge. Photo: Stephanie Nieuwoudt

This is the conclusion of Nelius Boshoff, researcher at the Centre of Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (SREST) at Stellenbosch University.

Winemakers indicated that results from wine laboratories follow on the heels of own experience as an important source of knowledge. This is followed by intuition and common sense.

Boshoff conducted his research as part of his doctoral thesis, Knowledge utilisation in the South African wine industry. He obtained his doctorate in March this year.

“We are situated in the Western Cape, and more specifically in Stellenbosch, the heartland of the South African wine industry. It simply made sense to research the industry here,” explains Boshoff.

“To succeed and stay competitive in the wine industry one must stay at the edge of new innovations and technology worldwide. Wine farmers obtain this knowledge in several ways.”

Boshoff’s research included web-based surveys completed by 210 respondents and interviews with six winemakers and three wine consultants.

A full 76% of respondents reported that their own experience was of extreme importance, while 23% indicated that it was of some importance. One percent said it was of little importance.

76% of the respondents indicated that the results from wine laboratories of extreme importance, 19% thought this was of some importance, 3% found it was of little importance, while 2% said it was of no importance.

For 74% of the respondents intuition and common sense was of extreme importance, and 25% indicated that they viewed this as of some importance.

Knowledge transferred by colleagues and staff at own wine cellars and wine estates was viewed as important, with 58% rating it of extreme importance (28% of some importance, 8% of little importance and 7% of no importance). Knowledge and information derived from colleagues at other cellars/estates was also seen as important with 57% of the respondents indicating it as of extreme importance (35% of some importance, 6%  of little importance, 1% of no importance).

The opinions of wine consumers are also held in high regard, with 53% finding it of extreme importance (36% of some importance, 9% of little importance and 2% of no importance).

Half of the respondents (50%) indicated formal training (university/college) was of extreme importance (34% found this of some importance, 10%  of little importance and 6% of no importance).

Study material was viewed as important, with 45% of the respondents indicating it as of extreme importance, and the internet was seen as most important by another 45%. Information sessions, seminars and workshops for the South African wine industry were viewed as of extreme importance by 35% of respondents, while 43% thought it was of some importance.

Concerning the wine making traditions of the farm, estate or cellar, 24% indicated these as an extremely important source of knowledge, while 41% said this was of some important, 24% of little importance, and 10% felt it was not important at all.

Other important sources of knowledge were VinPro consultants (20% thought these were of extreme importance, 40% of some importance), information in brochures or commercial products were viewed as of extreme importance by 19% of the respondents, with 40% indicating it as of some importance. Conferences in South Africa were seen as extremely important by 19% of respondents, while 44% thought these were of some importance. Commercial technical consultants (16% extremely important, 50% of some importance), South African researchers and lectures (16% extremely important, 48% of some importance important) and family members with a knowledge of winemaking (15% extremely important, 18% of some importance), also played a role.

Of the respondents 19% indicated they read everything in each issue of the technical supplement Wynboer in Wineland magazine, while 55% only read parts of each issue and 24% only read some of the issues.

13% read everything in Outlook Gazette of Anchor Wine Yeast, while 29% read parts of every issue and  29% read some issues.

46% of the respondents speak to other wine makers at least once a month and 35% at least once every three months.

The internet is a sought-after source of knowledge, with 47% of the respondents using it at least once per month searching for information and 37% making use of the internet at least once every three months.