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Each year, we host Tastes of 2016, a series of wine-paired dinners that celebrate our relationships with the Western Cape’s best wine estates, restaurants and vineyards.

Recently maître d‘ Anita Thomson and Garden Lounge hostess, Sarah Chihurani – spent three days at Haskell Vineyards. The objective was to learn more about the winemaking process from one of the county’s most experienced female wine makers, Riani Strydom. Says Sarah, “There was a real sense of empowerment. Riani is a fantastic mentor and she’s passionate about training up young winemakers.”

For Anita one of the most remarkable parts of the experience was the amount of hard work that goes into harvesting and fermenting. “Wine is like a baby. You have to keep checking on it, making sure it’s okay, and providing exactly what it needs when it needs it. Women are natural nurturers and I think this is why they make such great winemakers. Riani has experience and training, but it’s her natural instinct that makes her wine stand out.”

Riani has known since high school that she wanted to make wine. “It’s a male-dominated industry and I do get asked a lot about whether or not I ever felt side-lined, but luckily the people I studied and work with are open-minded. I’ve always felt welcomed and respected.”

At the Haskell cellar, Riani describes herself as more of a mentor than a boss and that is how she approached the three days with Anita and Sarah. She encouraged her current Cape Winemakers Guild protégé Clayton Christians, to walk the women through the experience. They started off getting down and dirty, sorting 600 kilos of grapes and shovelling out the fermenting tanks.  Then it was time for checking sugar levels and taste testing the barrels.

“I am a bit of a control freak and I have always done everything myself,” says Riani. “But I have learnt how important it is to give others the space to take the lead. Training up young winemakers is incredibly rewarding.”