For most of March, Jeremy was running from pillar to post, keeping up with all his harvesting jobs. As we mentioned in our previous post – Jeremy is always on the lookout for interesting parcels of grapes, and their different locations keep him on the hop until the last bunch is picked. For a week of this frenetic activity, he was joined by Megan Haines, who travelled all the way from Scotland to learn about the wine business from the tough end. And the tough end it was, when I started the interview with Megan, the first thing she said was “I have never done so much sweeping in my entire life.” This is an essential part of wine making – keeping the cellar clean.

From my side, I had expected that sentence to come out in a soft Edinburgh burr, but what I heard was pretty standard British English – which made me ask how a young English woman came to be working in Scotland for a stockist of Painted Wolf Wines – Appellation Wines in Edinburgh. Her answer: university.

Megan – the university years

Megan arrived in Scotland five years ago to read History at the University of Edinburgh. She discovered that the University had a pretty active and social wine society and joined up. The Edinburgh University Wine Society hold wine tastings every Monday, where students get to taste six wines in a themed tasting. Their page on the university website says “They are very chilled tastings and you don’t need to know anything about wine!  Highlights of the Wine Society’s calendar include the annual Christmas Dinner and the Champagne tasting saved for the end of the year.”

For about three of her four years at varsity, Megan worked part time at Appellation Wines. But whether her job furthered her interest in wine or whether her wine society activities lead to her job at the wine merchant, she doesn’t say. What she does tell me was that she was a member of the University wine society blind tasting team. This seems interesting, so I did a bit of research and discover that there are intervarsity blind tasting competitions, and they are pretty serious.

Megan (second from left) and the Blind Tasting Team in March 2018 after they won the Pol Roger Varsity Competition against St Andrews. Photo from the Edinburgh University Wine Society Facebook Page

Last year – her final year at Edinburgh University – Megan was on the team that took part in the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup. The Left Bank Bordeaux Cup is organised in a similar way to the famous America’s Cup yachting competition with challengers from North America, Asia and Europe facing the best wine clubs from French universities and business schools in a final that is held every year at Château Lafite-Rotschild.

In 2018 the challengers were:

  • France: Centrale supelec and Université de Dauphine
  • UK (or rest of Europe): Oxford and The University of Edinburgh
  • USA: Harvard and Yale Law school
  • Asia: Hong Kong University of Science & Technology and Zheijiang Gongshang University

Megan and her team mates won the challenge.

Megan graduated and joined Appellation Wines full-time. When she mentioned to owner, Ashton McCabe, that she would like to see how wine was made, Ashton immediately suggested Jeremy. Any experience that Megan would get at Painted Wolf would be very hands on and give her real insight into the practical struggles of making wine on our scale.

Megan jumps into the deep end of harvest

This would be Megan’s second trip to South Africa, but the first one as an adult and the first one to this part of the Western Cape. Jeremy made sure she got the whole harvesting experience. She joined him on visits to Silkbush vineyard in the Breedekloof area and Blue gum vineyard in Overberg. She also visited two of our cellar partners – Seven Springs in the Hermanus area and Koopmanskloof in the Bottelarey Hills. In the cellars she worked on sorting the grapes on the conveyor belt and making sure that there are no passengers of the creepy crawly variety on the bunches, and no bunches with rot.

She learned how to take sugar readings from newly fermented wines – the most fundamental winemaking analysis for winemakers, as the sugar is an indicator of the alcohol level to come.   When I asked her what the most unexpected aspect of her week was, she replied that she had a lot of theoretical knowledge and that she had really enjoyed getting involved in the practical side of making the wine because it gave the theory meaning. Being able to taste various wines at various stages of the fermentation process was interesting as well. Over all she came away with a deep appreciation of the hard work involved on the part of the winemaker and the cellar workers and how adaptable winemakers need to be.

It wasn’t all bug spotting duty and sweeping floors. There was a fair amount of wine tasting done during the week. She took part in a comparative tasting of our chenin blanc, with similar wines from Cedarberg and Mulderbosch which she really enjoyed. She also appreciated the chance to taste all of our wines, because not all of them are imported to the UK or stocked by Appellation Wines. Her favourites are our premium range – Pictus V, VI and VII – this is a woman of taste after all.

When asked what her dream job in the wine industry would be, she answered immediately: “I would love to be a buyer. To travel to the winemaking regions of the world and visit the producers, see their processes and taste their wines.” Yes, most of us would love that too, but unlike most of us, Megan has the palate to do it!

We are hoping that Appellation Wines will stock our wines for many more years because now we have an inside woman in their organisation. Jeremy’s accolade: “I enjoyed having Megan shadow me during harvest. She has an exquisite palate and is a bright young woman”.

Thank you to Ashton for sending Megan our way, and to Megan for her invaluable sorting and tasting skills.