In one of the biggest upsets in the wine world since the Judgement of Paris in 1977, the University of Cape Town beat perennial favourites Stellenbosch to take top honours in the 2011 Backsberg Vino Varsity Wine Tasting Competition. The resounding nature of UCT’s victory added to the awe-inspiring result as the Capetonians won two of the contest’s three legs, drawing the third with Stellenbosch who this year had to contend with the runners-up jug. Newcomer’s Rhodes University from Grahamstown were third.
“We knew we had it in us, but the manner in which we won has surprised the whole team,” says Doug Hoernie, captain of the UCT squad. “Last year we were hammered, as was the case in 2009. We did a lot of soul-searching in the beginning of 2011, put in the hard work and came to Backsberg physically and mentally prepared. Quite frankly, I don’t think Stellenbosch knew what hit them.”
This year’s Backsberg Vino Varsity comprised three legs: a blind wine-tasting to identify styles, regions, varieties and faults, a general knowledge section and a presentation in which each team selected a grape variety they perceived to be South Africa’s vinous calling card.
Chosing Chenin Blanc, UCT put on scintillating display of presentation skills, clarity of thought and touches of apt humour. They also deftly handled the questions put to them by the three judges – wine legend Dave Hughes, critic Christian Eedes and Australian marketing expert Georgie Prout.
The all-girl Rhodes team fared well in the debate section with their seductive argument for Shiraz, while Stellenbosch bombed with a nervous and jittery crusade for Pinotage that should see Pinotage King Beyers Truter beating his head against a new French barrique.
UCT were controlled in the wine-tasting section, correctly identifying terroir, cool climate and blended components, upsetting Stellenbosch’s reputation of technical excellence. Stellenbosch regained a bit of glory in the general knowledge section, tying with UCT, but this was too little too late.
“We were beaten by a better team on the day,” says Neil Bent, captain of the Stellenbosch team. “Well done to UCT – enjoy the moment. We know how it feels so it hurts double to lose the trophy. But we’ll be back as challengers next year.”
Simon Back, Backsberg Marketing Manager, says the third Vino Varsity drew the biggest audience of all contests to date and showed that the concept was capturing the imagination of university wine societies.
“It was terrific to have Rhodes here and we are looking at reaching out to more universities in the next competition,” he said. “I am impressed by the enthusiasm shown by all the students in embracing wine as a part of South African and university culture, as well as the efforts they are prepared to make in preparing for this competition.”