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In July 2017, Stellenbosch University student Janet Vermaak travelled to Sion, Switzerland, for a summer school on wine, terroir and tourism. Stellenbosch University International sponsored Janet to attend the weeklong summer school at the University of Lausanne, one of five partner institutions in the Swiss country. Here Janet recalls the experience:
Getting to Switzerland
“Since the course was only five days long and the bursary covered our travel expenses and accommodation, my friend and I decided to travel a bit before the summer school started, to make the long journey worthwhile. While student hostels are quite expensive in Switzerland, France is known for being a student-friendly country, and we decided to visit Lyon, gastronomical capital of France. We found an affordable room to share with six other girls, in a lively, cosy student hostel. Even though we went to France first, it is important to apply for a visa in the country where you will be staying for the longest time, which, in our case, was Switzerland. The Swiss embassy is very efficient, but very strict regarding the required visa documents. I would recommend reading through the instructions on their website carefully before going for the appointment.”
“When we finally arrived safely in the beautiful, mountainous town of Sion, we were welcomed by our summer school hosts with snacks and, of course, wine. They assured us that at the end of the wine-filled week, we would only be drinking beer for at least a month. We got the chance to meet our fellow summer schoolers, and quickly realised that we were the youngest kids in the class, the oldest being an eighty-year-old anthropologist and his wife. Despite our inexperience, these wine-veterans received us with open arms. We were part of a diverse group of people working in the tourism industry, wine-makers and anthropologists from a whole range of different countries: Italy, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, Germany and the United States. After having settled into our youth hostel our senior classmate jokingly remarked that he possessed eternal youth) it was time for the work to begin. Wine tasting is a serious business.
“In these five days we covered a wide variety of subjects, such as global wine terroirs and the mystique surrounding the influence of the terroir on the characteristics of the wine, the commercialisation of wine, innovation in wine tourism, the biochemical vinification processes, the influence of technology on winemaking and sensorial wine analysis. The course consisted of a series of lectures as well as tastings, winemaking experiments and study trips. We even had the opportunity to make our very own wine. We stomped the grapes and poured the juice into different vials, removing the stems and seeds from some and leaving them as is in others, adding chips of oak to some and nothing to others. Since we only had five days, we added yeast to speed up the fermentation process. At the end of the summer school, when we could finally taste our home-made wine, one of the participants commented that it tasted like feet. Perhaps a wine press is not such a bad idea after all.”
“One of the best parts of this summer school, was interacting with a whole spectrum of people from different backgrounds, age groups and cultures. If there is one thing I learnt, it is that wine is closely connected to culture, and it was interesting to see how the perception of wine is constructed in different parts of the world. As a literature and translation student, I was especially fascinated by the language used to create this mystique surrounding wine. This summer school not only taught me to appreciate the complex, yet earthy process of winemaking, but has broadened my cultural perspective and contributed to my formation as a future translator.
“For this summer school, all you need is an open mind and an eagerness to learn, but also a willingness to share your own cultural experience. If, as in my case, wine is not your exact field of expertise, I would recommend perhaps reading up a bit about your own region and thinking of things that are unique to your own terroir. I would also advise taking comfortable walking shoes: you will be climbing some mountains. But at least there will be wine at the top.”