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Cheers to a celebration of youth

New wine marks success of workplace readiness programme for disadvantaged young people from the winelands

Enjoying the first taste of uLutsha Pinotage are, from left clockwise, wine educator and judge Cathy Marston, Delheim executive director Victor Sperling, wine educator Tuanni Price, Ntsiki Biyela, owner of Aslina Wines, winemaker and wine educator Nomonde Kubheka, and Denzel Swarts, vice-chair of the Black Cellar Club
TOASTING EMPOWERMENT: Enjoying the first taste of uLutsha Pinotage are, from left clockwise, wine educator and judge Cathy Marston, Delheim executive director Victor Sperling, wine educator Tuanni Price, Ntsiki Biyela, owner of Aslina Wines, winemaker and wine educator Nomonde Kubheka, and Denzel Swarts, vice-chair of the Black Cellar Club
Image: SUPPLIED

Sometimes a story comes along that Is not only genuinely heart-warming but also demonstrates how talk of concepts like empowerment and transformation can translate into a practical result that really does change lives for the better.

Such is the story behind the recent launch of a new wine brand — uLutsha, created by a group of nine disadvantaged young people in partnership with the venerable Delheim wine estate.

Aptly, uLutsha means “youth” in isiXhosa, and the brands first release is uLutsha Pinotage, commended by wine critics at its recent launch for its youthful vibrancy and ageing potential.

The launch of the new brand and its first wine was the culmination of what started as a workplace learning project, with Delheim partnering with the Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA) to offer practical experience to a group of the academy’s graduates.

The Stellenbosch-based PYDA offers a year-long workplace readiness programme for disadvantaged young people from the winelands, focused on practical skills and personal development, preparing them for employment or entrepreneurship in the wine, wine tourism and fruit industries.

The idea is to develop relevant and employable skills, with the programme designed in consultation with industry employers, and the impact is significant — more than 90% of the PYDA’s graduates are employed within six months of finishing the programme.

Delheim is one such frequent employer of PYDA graduates, and executive director Nora Thiel said the launch of uLutsha had taken their partnership with the academy to the next level by providing hands-on training in winemaking as well as all the business aspects of wine “from root to bottle, and everything in between”.

The learner winemakers were mentored along the way by Ntsiki Biyela, SA’s first black female winemaker, who makes her Aslina wines at Delheim.

With the pinotage made, and learning gained on the wine value chain, the logical next step was to create a brand and launch a commercial product.

The beauty of the idea is that it’s long-term — each new intake of PYDA graduates at Delheim will bottle the barrel of wine made by the previous group, while making a wine to mature in barrel and be bottled and launched by the next group.

As for the wine itself, Delheim invited a panel of experts to sample the uLutsha 2019 Pinotage at its launch in February, and the reception was enthusiastic.

Wine educator and judge Cathy Marston describes “perfumed red berries, touches of spice and leather, firm but supple tannins and lively acidity should help it evolve over the next five to eight years, adding layers of complexity to an already-exciting wine”.

The Black Cellar Club’s Denzel Swarts said uLutsha Pinotage “bursts with personality”.

“Authentic to our country and in style, it bursts with berry aromas and plum, youthful in expression just like the youth, the wine medium to full body, with a firm tannin structure.

“My suggestion is to hold on to this beauty as it develops with age.

“Only 230 bottles of the first release were made, to be sold at R1,000 each, with proceeds going into winelands youth development and the next phase of developing the business to offer a range of niche wine products. (Email ulutsha@pyda.co.za to order.)

As graduate Ziyanda Njalo puts it: “Ulutsha is a wine brand that inspires young people who want to create their own brands and be employers of tomorrow.”

An inspiring ambition and a great investment.

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