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This last week I attended the VitaGLOBAL closing meeting at the University Rovira I Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. On the agenda was a discussion of the wine sector’s current and future skilling needs, specifically looking at the role of university-industry partnerships and how that can impact local economic development. I was delighted to represent Creation, our Western Cape and South African region along with academics from Stellenbosch University and CPUT.

A total of 15 international universities and industry partners were represented and there were many commonalities, the most critical being that Fine Wine has a skills shortage worldwide, potentially threatening the industry. A ‘Wine Visa’ (just like medical and tech visas) would help with skills transfer and development worldwide, and secure the global future of Fine Wine. Knowledge workers could move from one country to another and across the hemispheres to help each other and gain new skill sets. It has been shown that technical, practical and soft skills develop dramatically in exchange programmes.

Another point of discussion was the specific challenges associated with growing the global wine sector. These included the need for bridging the gap between courses offered by academic institutions and real-life professional environments. It was agreed that the upskilling of winemakers, viticulturists and team members at all levels throughout their careers is of vital importance, as is succession planning. This was a fundamental focus area of the project sharpening university contribution to local development.

Within the South African context, municipal officials and national government need to recognise the value of wine and wine tourism to the local economy. We need more funding to raise the profile of the South African Wine Industry. This becomes even more evident when looking- at investments made elsewhere in the world. At the same time we need to campaign for wine in moderation and the responsible consumption of alcohol.

Among other challenges are the freight issues currently experienced all over the world. These need to be addressed by lobbying for improved port and harbour infrastructure.

Also on the agenda was the question of collaboration with local universities and higher education providers. Creation is committed to participating in, and supporting leading scientific and academic initiatives in our industry. These include ClimaVin, a global climate change project spearheaded by Stellenbosch University. We are also working with Stellenbosch University on the VitaGLOBAL project which involves the local development of viti-viniculture and oenology. Another ongoing venture is the Vititec GEN-Z project, involving experimental plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to establish clones and rootstocks best suited to mitigate climate change. We work with the Stellenbosch University Business School to solve marketing problems. We furthermore collaborate with Stellenbosch University and the Swiss Federal School of Changins, discussing the benefits of exchange programmes with relevant government officials.

It is essential to marry academic studies to practical education. Students will become more engaged with their studies if the theory is applied to the practical work throughout their studies. They will discover the area of the business which excites them the most and be able to contribute to the sustainability of Fine Wine, from soil science to business economics. Ideally, it would be good to develop a dual education system throughout the study period or, if that is not possible, during their postgraduate studies. The industry-academic relationships in this sector are important. The exchange of ideas, ranging from innovation in the industry to new thinking from academic institutions, is vital to progress.

Food and wine culture crosses all international borders and broadens our horizons and thinking. We need to create an ethos of incremental professional postgraduate programmes, linked to Viticulture and Oenology degrees.  We should also focus on staff training and skills enhancement in hospitality, with experts presenting training modules and international exchange programmes for chefs and the front-of-house team.

The relationship between academia and industry has been strengthening. An example is our collaboration with Stellenbosch University. The benefit is mutual, improving the quality of viticulture and winemaking. We see the benefits in outlying regions like the Hemel-en-Aarde. Students also have a forum for experimentation that is useful to the industry.

The VitaGLOBAL network has created many opportunities to share best practices worldwide and drive innovative solutions. These include global postgraduate studies, developing modules to up-skill industry and funding opportunities for skills development. Through networks such as VitaGLOBAL, collectively we can be effective international educators and ambassadors for the world of Fine Wine.

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