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Stellenbosch University wine researcher rises above many challenges to achieve global recognition

Stellenbosch University researcher Dr Erna Blancquaert is one of only two recipients of the 2021 global Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships. Picture: Facebook

Stellenbosch University researcher Dr Erna Blancquaert is one of only two recipients of the 2021 global Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships. Picture: Facebook

Published Oct 21, 2021


Cape Town – Stellenbosch University researcher Dr Erna Blancquaert was motivated to embark on in a career in the wine industry ’’to combat prejudice in the wine industry and academia’’.

To drive more inclusion and diversity in the wine industry worldwide, the first Golden Vines Awards ceremony, aside from diversity projects, will help fund two people, Blancquaert and Angela Elizabeth Scott from the US, to study for the internationally renowned Master of Wine programme at The Institute of Masters of Wine in the United Kingdom.

The Master of Wine programme is generally regarded in the wine industry as a pinnacle in standards of professional knowledge, and there were 42 entries from black and ethnic minority students from 23 countries.

A social media admirer commented: ’’I’m still just so in awe of Dr Erna Blancquaert being awarded this Golden Vines scholarship. You are one special lady, making the circle bigger. I hope that you'll keep us updated on your journey – our industry is going to be so much richer.’’

Humbled to be one of the recipients of the scholarship, she said it also comes with a tremendous responsibility, but is thrilled about the opportunity to become a part-time student again and pass on the knowledge on what is happening in the international wine sector to her undergraduate students.

Born and bred in Paarl, Blancquaert, a lover of Chenin Blanc and a good Malbec from Argentina, told she was inspired by being surrounded by vines while growing up and seeing how it grows, and the excitement around harvest time.

’’Curiosity got me to venture into vitiviniculture as a career. Not perceiving the aromas on a wine label when tasting grapes got me hooked. Dr Victoria Carey, the first female to obtain a PhD in Viticulture at Stellenbosch University in 2005, was one of my undergraduate lecturers.

’’An amazing mentor and trailblazer who conducted the first terroir study in Stellenbosch. Her passion for viticulture struck me and I ended up enrolling for a MSc in Viticulture and later with my PhD, under her supervision,’’ said Blancquaert, who regards ’’patience, grit, tenacity and a love for nature’’ as essential requirements for the job.

Her research focuses on the impact of abiotic stressors on grape quality. ’’This research is pivotal as the demands from the entire value chain are on the increase. Grape producers gets paid per ton of grapes delivered, winemakers are waiting for a specific aroma profile or phenolic ripeness and the consumer wants lower alcohol wines. Furthermore, grapevines are sessile and are constantly adapting to the changing climatic conditions.’’

Asked whether she had to face any challenges coming from a BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of colour background) in the world of wine study and academia, she said: ’’I face challenges on a daily basis. As a BIPOC individual your intentions, intelligence and integrity gets questioned every minute of the day…

’’You walk into a lecture hall and I know which students will make my life difficult. These students normally pose questions which they think are challenging to test me.

’’On the research side your research ideas might be challenged for ’lacking something’. Yet if these ideas are presented internationally, the responses are the opposite.’’