Stellenbosch University viticulturist and researcher Dr Erna Blancquaert is one of only two recipients from around the world of the 2021 Taylor's Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships. The bursary, worth 55 000 British pounds, allows her to follow the internationally renowned Master of Wine programme of The Institute of Masters of Wine (MW) in the United Kingdom.
The recipients were announced at the not-for-profit Golden Vines Awards Ceremony and Dinner, which was held at Annabel's Private Members Club, London's pre-eminent private members' club, on 7 October 2021.
Dr Blancquaert is associated with the SU Department of Viticulture and Oenology and the South African Grape and Wine Research Institute.
“She is a natural leader and a stickler for truth. I wish her every success," said lead judge Jancis Robinson MW.
Robinson and her fellow judges will be providing ongoing mentorship to Dr Blancquaert and American lawyer Angela Scott, the co-recipient of the Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship, who is now based in New Zealand.
Dr Blancquaert says she is thrilled about the opportunity afforded to her to become a part-time student again, and to be able to receive the MW qualification. It is generally regarded in the wine industry as one of the highest standards of professional knowledge.
In all, 42 aspiring black and ethnic minority students from 23 countries wishing to undertake the Masters of Wine (MW) and Master Sommelier (MS) programmes applied for the scholarships.
According to the organisers, the not-for-profit Golden Vines Awards recognises the “star performers of the fine wine industry". The event, organised by the wine research and content production company Liquid Icons, raised funds for the Gerard Basset Foundation which supports more diversity and inclusion-related wine education programmes.
The scholarships cover the entirety of the scholars' course and examination costs, traveling costs as well as possible loss of earnings during their work placement internships. The Internship programme includes a set of diversified work experiences with some of the world's top wine domaines including Château Cheval Blanc, Liber Pater, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, and Château d'Yquem in Bordeaux; Dom Pérignon and Ruinart in Champagne; Domaine Baron Thenard, Domaine des Lambrays and Domaine Laroche in Burgundy; Weingut Egon Müller in Germany; Symington Family Estates and Taylor's Port in Portugal; Colgin Cellars, Lawrence Wine Estates and Opus One in California; Klein Constantia and Vilafonté in South Africa; Bodega Catena Zapata in Argentina; Lapostolle Clos Apalta and Vina Vik in Chile; and The Macallan distillery in Scotland.
Some very exciting opportunities await Dr Blancquaert, including a Masterclass with Marc Almert (the 2019 ASI Best Sommelier of the World), a two-day specialist cork course at Amorim, work placement at Annabel's Private Members Club & The Birley Clubs, as well as academic courses at UC Davis Department of Oenology & Viticulture, the WOW Wine School (Porto), the Kedge Wine School, and the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV).
Dr Blancquaert, originally from Paarl, was the first Black woman to obtain a PhD in Viticulture on the African continent.
Her research focuses on abiotic stressors (climate change) and the impacts on the grape berry metabolites, sustainability pillars associated with grape and wine production and the use of infrared technologies to implement precision viticulture. She is a Fulbright Alumna and coordinates a Global Network for Agricultural Sciences and Viniviticulture consortium for Stellenbosch University, with seventeen other international wine producing partner universities.
Her focus is to enhance internationalisation between the partner universities and create a learning experience for the future generation in the global wine community.
Understanding the grapevine is what excites her. “Great wines are made in the vineyard" and “the proof is in the pudding" are two philosophies she lives by.
Dr Blancquaert constantly pursues knowledge while at the same time seeking to share knowledge through her teaching and her interactions with students and mentees.
When she isn't lecturing, researching or tasting wine, she loves the outdoors, cooking and travelling, and is a secret poet and photographer. A hike in the Stellenbosch Mountains is a perfect start to the day, or a stroll along the beach with her husband, Maarten, and six-year-old son, Josh.