Stellenbosch-based wine researcher achieves French knighthood


NOMPU SIZIBA: The science of wine making (oenology) is studied on the highest tutorial degree, and simply final yr South African-based scientist and tutorial Professor Benoit Diol was bestowed a ceremonial knighthood – the Knight within the Order of Agricultural Advantage by the French authorities – in honour of his contribution to the sector of winemaking and agriculture. He’s an affiliate professor within the Division of Viticulture and Oenology and the South African Grape and Wine Analysis Institute at Stellenbosch College. He joins me now on the road.

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Thanks very a lot, professor, for becoming a member of us. What basically is it that you just and your colleagues do within the Division of Viticulture and Oenology? And maybe you may as well outline what these ideas imply.

Prof BENOIT DIVOL: Certain, good night to you and your listeners. Thanks for having me. Sure, as lecturers we put on a number of hats, however our foremost job is centred round instructing and analysis. In different phrases, we prepare the following era of viticulturists and winemakers. However we additionally prepare post-graduate college students as much as PhD degree to develop into wonderful scientists who can apply their abilities to the wine business, but additionally to different industries.

And so for the analysis half we generate new scientific data that’s directed to the wine business; however that may even have a wider outreach, like several scientific analysis. And since we’re very effectively related to the South African wine business, a part of our job additionally consists of reaching out to this business and speaking our leads to numerous varieties.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Now, professor, I perceive that you just had been born in Paris, however have South African connections and therefore you reside and work right here within the nation. Simply share a bit with us about your roots and the place and while you obtained the wine-making bug, since you’re additionally a winemaker.

Prof BENOIT DIVOL: Properly, I can say that Paris as a birthplace is clearly not one of the best begin to find yourself working within the discipline of winemaking, particularly so removed from France. However unusual issues do occur. My mother and father had been academics – they’re now retired. So I believe that’s the place the instructing bug originated. However for the winemaking half, it’s fairly difficult, I feel, and I’m nonetheless attempting to grasp myself. If I might summarise it, perhaps it’s as a result of I discover wine actually fascinating. It’s a implausible beverage. But additionally for me there’s rather more to it. It’s all about historical past and artwork and science, with intermingled social points. So for me it embodies life as an entire. And I like this complexity about wine. I’m changing into a bit tough now.

NOMPU SIZIBA: We all know that France has a well-established historical past by way of its winemaking and tradition, and South African wine has in current occasions been quick gaining a fan base all over the world. After all we all know that in your capability as a professor you’ve been working laborious to make sure that each nations collaborate. What kind of relationship have you ever tried to encourage there?

Prof BENOIT DIVOL: It’s true. The wine business is an important business in each France and South Africa at numerous ranges – traditionally, culturally, socially, economically – as you’d know. So I’m additionally fascinated by the flexibility of this historical business to rework and reinvent itself and adapt to new cycle adjustments, new calls for from shoppers, and to reply to new realities like local weather change.

Nevertheless it’s additionally a fragile business that faces numerous challenges. So I assume that’s the place my colleagues and I are available in, in a approach. My very own analysis is about microbiology. So I deal with yeast that transforms grapes to wine. I look into the aromas that they produce. The concept is clearly to offer extra data and instruments to winemakers, to favour a selected yeast and finally keep away from issues, and create a higher range of our profiles within the wines.

So clearly good analysis may be achieved individually in a little bit nook, however I imagine that it’s additionally nice to do it collectively, not in isolation, to carry collectively synergies and quite a lot of experience. And, being a Frenchman residing in South Africa, for the previous 16 years it was very near my coronary heart to construct bridges between the 2 nations.

This was achieved by numerous methods. For example, we stablished some bilateral agreements for particular initiatives that included mobility of workers and post-graduate college students. We at the moment are transferring in direction of extra Institute-wide agreements that may promote extra built-in approaches to review – all the way in which from grapes to bottle, and to the glass of the patron. And likewise one thing that’s actually near my coronary heart is the institution of particular (multi-university) agreements for PhD college students who register for joint levels. I’m very fascinated by that side as a result of I imagine that mobility is essential these days, though clearly on this previous yr it was made a bit harder. Nevertheless it supplies an important deal to the scholars and to us as effectively. However for the scholars it  supplies a lot expertise professionally and personally.

NOMPU SIZIBA: With the alcohol bans that we skilled right here in South Africa over the past 10 months, are you fearful concerning the progress of a few of the vineyards within the nation in consequence, in addition to after all the efficient provide chain?

Prof BENOIT DIVOL: Clearly we perceive the rationale behind the bans, and everybody can simply think about how severely it has impacted the business. And clearly many roles are at stake right here within the Western Cape, and even past. I’m not a wine economist, so I can’t remark a lot additional on this. However clearly even in my private discipline it creates uncertainties. College students are fearful about the way forward for this business. And, I suppose, on the analysis facet, a few of our funding derives instantly from levies which are collected on wine estates. So you possibly can think about the impression that it’s going to have within the short-term future.  However I all the time attempt to be optimistic. So let’s be hopeful.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Completely. I did point out that you just had been honoured with the ceremonial knighthood by the French authorities final yr on your contribution to agriculture. How did that make you’re feeling, and are a few of your associates now calling you “Lord”?

Prof BENOIT DIVOL: I feel I’ve nonetheless to completely realise what this all means. Clearly I really feel deeply honoured. I’d wish to take this chance to thank the French Embassy in South Africa for nominating me, particularly the  Division of Cooperation and Cultural Motion there. I don’t actively search this type of distinction, however I’m glad that my work is acknowledged in that approach, and I hope this can simply be a springboard to additional growing collaboration between South Africa and France.

As for the title, sure, some folks began to name me “sir”. I hope it was a joke. I needed to clarify additionally that France is a republic, so there aren’t any titles. It’s the privilege hooked up to the ornament. However I’m not searching for any of these. So the ornament is already greater than I might’ve ever requested for.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Okay, that’s nice. After which one very last thing – simply by way of younger individuals who could also be listening to our dialog – what topics do they must be fascinated by at college to have the ability to develop abilities within the space of viticulture and oenology?

Prof BENOIT DIVOL: Thanks for asking this query. Regardless of the challenges that the business faces, I nonetheless imagine that it’s an interesting business and it’s guided by innovation and with a brilliant future. So, for the younger individuals who would have an interest, they’ve to review arithmetic, bodily sciences and English or Afrikaans. Moreover, we additionally enrol postgraduate college students ranging from the Honours degree all the way in which to PhD. They will come from any scientific background as a result of our analysis initiatives cowl massive fields – from engineering to microbiology, biochemistry, sensory, and so forth. So I imagine that the sector actually has loads to supply.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Wonderful. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Professeur. Thanks on your time.

Prof BENOIT DIVOL: Thanks for this chance.

NOMPU SIZIBA: That was Professor Benoit Divol. He’s from the division of viticulture and oenology at Stellenbosch college.