NC’s head winemaker learns from South African viticulture students

During his trip to South Africa, Robertson observed the Elsenberg College student’s winemaking methods.


One NC professor is on a mission to enhance agriculture in Canada through international practices.

On Feb. 20, Gavin Robertson, NC Teaching Winery head winemaker, vineyard coordinator and instructor, travelled to South Africa as part of his Nuffield Scholarship. On this trip, taking place over the College’s break week, Robertson sought out best practices used by other winemaking programs and grape growers.

On this venture, Robertson visited Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape province to speak with professors and students about the various programs and research being done at that institution. Just 14 kilometres away, Robertson visited Elsenberg College to participate in some harvest crush activities at Elsenberg College Teaching Winery and also give a seminar on Canadian wine to the class, along with a tasting of Ontario wines.

“I found that Elsenberg College did an especially good job at integrating the relevant sciences and classroom theory with hands-on training in all of their course-based work, in a way that is familiar to those of us who have studied or taught in the wine programs at Niagara College,” said Robertson.

In addition to seeking best practices for agriculture in Canada, Roberston had the opportunity to develop professional experience working in another region. During his trip, Robertson volunteered as a cellar hand during the Pinotage harvest at Beyerskloof, a winery outside of the town of Stellenbosch.

“I have been so lucky to be able to enhance my own knowledge by dropping into these wine region and kicking the dirt, tasting the wines, eating the local food, and especially by talking to the locals who live and work there,” said Robertson.

Through a combination of observation, hand-on experience and sharing his current knowledge, Robertson is preparing Niagara College and Canada for a future of successful winemaking and agricultural practice.

“The most valuable thing that I’ve taken home from all of these travels are the really great relationships formed with teachers, students, grape growers, winemakers and other wine professionals abroad,” said Robertson. “My hope is that these relationships will foster future student exchanges, help our grads find work abroad, and form the basis for other partnership opportunities that may come along.”

In 2017, Robertson, a Winery and Viticulture technician program (2011) alumnus, was among four applicants selected for Nuffield Canada’s scholarship program, aimed at fostering agricultural leadership and personal development through international study. As a recipient, the St. Catharines resident has received $15,000 and the opportunity to travel to renowned wine regions around the world to find solutions to challenges faced by Canada’s developing grape and wine industry. After Robertson submits a report detailing his findings, the title of Nuffield Scholar is officially conferred.