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Thursday, 06 May 2021

PhD for first wine scientist to pink white wine

THE GOLDEN TOUCH: Enology and Crop Protection Lecturer, Anton Nel, who recently obtained his PhD in Agriculture at Stellenbosch University is with his supportive family, Hesmarie and Helma. THE GOLDEN TOUCH: Enology and Crop Protection Lecturer, Anton Nel, who recently obtained his PhD in Agriculture at Stellenbosch University is with his supportive family, Hesmarie and Helma.

Determination has led lecturer in Enology and Crop Protection, Anton Nel to obtain his PhD in Agriculture at Stellenbosch University recently.

Nel’s research focus was about pinking on South African white wines. “This was a very difficult study as I needed grapes that will pink when the wine was made. Unfortunately, one cannot test for pinking of grape juice, so you have to take the chance. As a winemaker, you also have a small window period per year in which to do the winemaking and analysis. If you missed it, you have to wait another year to repeat. That made the whole study very stressful,” Nel recalls.

The father of two started with his undergraduate degree in 2004 at the age of 36 at Stellenbosch University. After obtaining his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, Nel wanted to learn everything the university could teach him so he obtained his Master’s in Agriculture in 2010.

“After that, I thought that it’s time I give something back, so I started my PhD in 2014.”

Nel who started to work as a lecturer at CPUT in the same year, adds: “In the beginning it was easy. You do research, plan experiments, start a bit, but as time goes on, everything became exponentially difficult. While colleagues got classes or sabbaticals, my teaching load became heavier with no classes. In the end, I got a sabbatical, but I was more at work than at home.

But determination put me through.”

He explains that pinking is phenomena where white wines got a pink colour after some air contact. Nel reveals that nothing is known about what causes pinking and that he set out to investigate winemaking processes that will lead to pinking.

“That’s novel work as no one in the world ever did that. I also had a sensory analysis, which was also novel work as no literature exists on the sensory aspects of pink white wines. Getting wines to pink proved also to be difficult, so it costs a lot of time, travel, etc, to get what I want.”

Nel who is also a Health and Safety Representative for the Department of Agriculture in the Wellington campus is very proud of his achievements. “It’s something that I set out to do. As a small child, I always said I wanted to become a scientist. Now I am a wine scientist. This achievement came with very long and hard work and one is normally very tired after a full day’s work. Things that I enjoy, like reading or collecting kept me going as it was this that gave me the joy to go forward. My support of my wife and family also carried me through a difficult time,” he continues.

“My life was not easy. I never had a mentor to teach me the ways. I made a lot of mistakes in my life to come where I am now. I have learned a lot of things and I am using this knowledge to plough back to my students.”

His studies took away a lot of family time. He started when his son was four years old, he is now 21 years. “That means for 17 years of his life, I wasn’t really there. My daughter is now 10, so I don’t want to make the same mistakes I did with my son.”

When he is not working nor studying, Nel will be busy with another research topic. This one is about the extraction of wine phenols during white winemaking and the maturation of the skins for an extended period of time. “This research was also never being done here in South Africa. I belong to some associations of which I am sitting on the board of directors, so these things keep me going.”

Written by Aphiwe Boyce