Home News AgriSETA Learner Connect: Meet a cellar master

AgriSETA Learner Connect: Meet a cellar master

Get some great advice from someone who climbed the wine-making ladder to the top

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“To make good wine is a job, to make great wine is an art”, says Charles Williams cellar master at De Toren Private Cellar in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. He oversees all the production and winemaking processes at De Toren, from soil to glass.

“My job is weighed towards the long-term sustainability and quality of our wines. This starts in the soil and vineyards, so it gets a bit more of my attention on a daily basis”, he says.

Williams studied viticulture and oenology (BSc Agric) at the University of Stellenbosch. He explains that there are quite a few options to study in the same field. Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in the Western Cape offers practical and theoretical training.

“In my view tertiary studies help us to better understand natural processes, therefore we can be more reactive to the impact of certain weather patterns and guide the vines toward producing better grapes and in turn wines.”

Although he has many career highlights, Williams says the “little battles won in the greater war out in the vineyards” are a constant delight.

If this career or field of study interests you, simply follow the advice below to find out more and about getting involved. Also check out the other careers to choose from in the agri sector on Food for Mzansi.

Okay, now it’s over to Charles Williams, cellar master at De Toren Private Cellar in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape:

1Could you sum up your job for us? As a cellar master my job is to oversee all production and winemaking processes at De Toren, from soil to glass. This includes long term sustainability of our soils and vineyards as well as continued quality of our wines. What makes it even better is that there is a strong financial management side to the position as well as a marketing angle.

2So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail? My job is weighed towards the long-term sustainability and quality of our wines. This starts in the soil and vineyards, so it gets a bit more of my attention on a daily basis. I work closely with our winemaker to monitor and steer the quality of the final wines. There is the financial management aspect of the production costs that needs daily attention and on any given day one might have to assist with some marketing related activities. I can assure you there is never a boring day!

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What qualification do you need for this career? I studied viticulture and oenology (BSc Agric) at the University of Stellenbosch, but there are quite a few options to study in the same field in the Western Cape (Elsenburg, CPUT) some being more practical, some more theoretical. In my view tertiary studies help us to better understand natural processes, therefore we can be more reactive to the impact of certain weather patterns and guide the vines toward producing better grapes and in turn wines. Internships are hugely important in a winemaker’s or viticulturist’s field!

4What are the character traits you need to be great at your job? A love for nature is definitely one of the most important traits. You need to be both practical and analytically orientated. You need to be creative and most importantly you need to have a passion for crafting something extraordinary. To make good wine is a job, to make great wines is an art.

5What subjects do I need to become a cellar master? You are overseeing both the viticultural, winemaking, logistical and financial processes involved in producing top wines, as such you should have the skillset to be able to be proficient at all of these aspects.

Mathematics and science are obvious answers. On the financial side accounting and economy are great subjects to give you a good foundation (seeing that these will not be primary courses in possible tertiary studies). I am a bit rusty on school subjects these days, but any geology-based courses would be hugely advantageous.

6What do you love about agriculture as a space to work in? Working with nature is addictive, the more you know, the more you want to know. There is nothing more rewarding that using your knowledge, but also your senses and gut feeling to make calls that will either result in average or GREAT results months or even years down the line. It is an amazing feeling when years of work, strategy, research and execution deliver a great result.

7Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments? So many, most are actually “little battles won in the greater war” out in the vineyards… It is always a great feeling when critics and peers recognize your work, but the best moments are when clients, many of whom have access to the greatest wines in the world, love what we do.

8What do you do when you’re not at work? I love the outdoors, so anything in nature. I’m a big family man, so I love spending time with my daughters and wife.

9Any advice for young people who are inspired by your career story here on AgriSETA Learner Connect? As Winemaker or viticulturist, and eventually cellar master, you would need a strong knowledge base of soil science and biology. You can study winegrowing courses locally at a few Western Cape institutions previously mentioned. But there is also many success stories of people that studied something completely different or not at all. In our industry it is very beneficial to have studied, it helps you in your first few years of practice to start from a greater knowledge base.

I am however a firm believer that will power and passion outweighs everything, so if this is something you are interested in, and further studies are not necessarily an option, apply for internships, do not be modest, apply at top cellars, just get your foot in the door, learn as much as possible from people that have experience.

10Where can I study to become a cellar master? Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in the Western Cape offers practical and theoretical training.

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Staff Reporter
Staff Reporter
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