Simon Back and the twice victorious Maties team

Stellenbosch and UCT prepare for 3rd Backsberg Vino Varsity

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A quiet storm is brewing before this Friday's three-way intervarsity wine-tasting between the Universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Rhodes on the Backsberg Estate in Simondium.

Stellenbosch, victorious in the past two Vino Varsities, face a two-pronged onslaught from on-form UCT and enthusiastic first-time participants, Rhodes from Grahamstown.

Vino Varsity 2011 will see the three teams fight it out during an intense set of challenges which include a general knowledge section, a physical and gruelling wine tasting and an energy sapping debate.

“We desperately want to be the first university to take this title three times in a row,” says Neil Bent, captain of the Stellenbosch Barriques. “If we do it, it will not only mean a lot to Stellenbosch’s reputation as a hub of vinous excellence, but our rigorous training over the past few months would have paid-off, proving pride is something you have to work hard for.”

Bent knows, however that Stellenbosch has its work cut-out. “UCT has been drinking from the runners-up mug for two straight years and they are not happy,” says Bent. “And with their rugby team taking the honours in the Varsity Cup earlier this year, they are set to upset the cart. We know we are up against it.”

Doug Hoernie, captain of the Ikeys Crushers, says Stellenbosch has a reason to be concerned. “Our victorious rugby team has certainly motivated us to believe in ourselves,” he says. “Training has been intense, but our major emphasis has been on strategy. We pored over video material of our performances over the last few years and have accepted our limitations and embraced the stupid mistakes we made. Our tasting has just not been up to scratch, so we hired a few technical experts to help us. Everyone trains hard – we believe we just trained smarter.”

Both captains agree that the Rhodes Malolactics are dangerous due to their being the unknown factor.

“Stellenbosch and UCT have an idea of what to expect from each other. But with this being Rhodes’s first venture into Vino Varsity, who knows what they are going to throw at us,” says Hoernie.

Rhodes skipper Carina Truyts is keeping her corkscrew close to her chest and would not indulge the other two teams as to what the ladies from Grahamstown may have in store for them.

“General knowledge and debate, well, it could go anyway on the day,” says Truyts. “But the tasting session is where the real decider is going to come in. Just be prepared for fresh, un-jaded palates is all I’m going to say.”

According to Simon Back, Backsberg marketing manager, Vino Varsity was conceived to generate a greater enthusiasm for the wine culture among students at all South African universities.

“UCT and Stellenbosch have always been known for their enthusiastic wine societies due to these universities’ close proximity to the traditional winelands,” says Back. “But by having Rhodes here this year and Wits a previous competitor, Vino Varsity is highlighting the excitement wine generates among students throughout the country. With this annual event we hope to bring the industry and future consumers a step closer to one another through a bit of fun, a heap of action and – of course – a glass or two of great wine.”

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