GRAPPLING WITH GRAPES (2004)

Randle, T. Grappling with Grapes: Wine Tourism of the Western Cape. A Minor Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Masters in Historical Studies. University of Cape Town. 2004.

To read the full thesis click here 

ABSTRACT

This thesis acts as a series of ‘snapshots’ into the meaning of wine tourism. Each chapter of my main body of work looks at a different segment of wine tourism in the Western Cape: a fast growing industry that inherits attributes from both the wine and tourism industries. Themes of landscape and the tourist experience link these separate snapshots. A passion for wine, and the drinking of wine, would seem to have been an enjoyable pastime passed down from epochs of wine lovers and producers that stood before us in the ‘winescapes’ of time. While this conception of the wine drinking tradition may be presented to us today, it should be remembered that this might not have been the case in times gone by.

Looking back to South Africa and the wine industry in the 1950s where ‘wine consciousness’ was a real concern for the marketers and makers of wine, we find no such traditions in place. Obstacles to the integration of wine into everyday living came in the form of an avid temperance movement concerned with drunkenness and alcoholism. Over time these obstacles heeded to the power of the wine industry so that increasing emphasis was placed on the role of publicity and marketing of wine. It was perhaps a natural development that wine tourism came to hold particular potential and interest for South African wine producers.

The history of wine tourism of the Western Cape is inherently connected to the establishment of our first wine route in Stellenbosch. With a concern for the superiority of the European wine making tradition and landscape, it was only in 1970 that we saw a change in interest to the wine regions and heritage landscapes of our own country. The Stellenbosch wine route was a concept inspired by European example but grounded in local landscape. The significance of the mapping out of this landscape of space into place was a real concern for the wine makers of the regions whose freedom to market and export their wine overseas was severely restricted by legal prohibitions established by the KWV in the 1960s. With the defining of distinct wine regions, came the emphasis of difference of place within the winelands of the Western Cape. Each region has a formula for difference based on some combination of breathtaking scenery, quality wines, first class cuisine, and with increasing frequency the heritage of European roots. The construction of place and landscape identities gives us a sense of the perspective of the marketer and promoter of the wine region. I found it important to explore how this construction of identity of place came to be experienced by and presented to tourists in the present day.

Moving away from a historical focus, I found it enlightening to delve into the actual experience of touring (which for me was the wine route personified) through the constructed ‘winescapes’ that had come to represent spaces into places. I myself participated in the ‘wine tourist experience’ through the seeking out of commercialized wine tours that occur within the particular landscape of the ‘winescape’. The individual preferences, motivations and past experiences of tourists predicted the kind of experience they chose and interests they displayed on tours. Whether a tourist had an interest in history or not, all three of the tours I participated in, in some way encompassed the viewing and message of European heritage. ‘Historic sites’ are central parts of tour compositions. While an interest in history is predicated by personal preference, it became clear that tourists seek out examples of local heritage and authenticity. Authenticity of experience and place plays a significant role in the presentation of heritage sites within winescapes. When I came to assess the presentation of history and heritage at the Groot Constantia Wine Estate, it becomes obvious that this significant role is missing. The museum is based on yet another example of European heritage and innovation within ‘darkest Africa’. Visiting the different components of the museum myself, was an integral part of the process of evaluating the estate as a heritage site. Understanding how people learn within a museum was interesting ‘food for thought’ when looking at how the Groot Constantia Museum fell short in the authenticity and enjoyment of experience. The close reading of how heritage was presented at a wine estate returned us to the importance of knowing and understanding the tourist experience. This thesis concentrates on the grappling of these issues existing in the past and present day.

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