As Stellenbosch looks to the future, it needs to build a long term wine tourism plan.
The plan should study what has happened in Napa where extensive investments have seriously threatened the environment, and the price of real estate has risen way beyond the means of ordinary residents. We need to plan to ensure the natural beauty of our winelands is not threatened by mass tourism, nor by expensive lifestyle estate developments, that the roads are not choked with traffic, and that the citizens and students of Stellenbosch remain a priority.
Stellenbosch must attract local tourists from the rest of South Africa as tourism growth can’t rely on a weak rand forever. A well thought out strategy to do this could generate jobs and benefit the local residents who are currently outside the wine economy.
How to do this? Here’s an idea to throw into the mix.
We need our own Guggenheim Bilbao. Not another art museum, but a superb and breathtaking piece of architecture, designed by African architects, situated somewhere dramatic- maybe near Oude Libertas at the gateway to the winelands.. The building needs to have the design impact of a Gehry structure, but be distinctly African, and definitely not Cape vernacular. It should be such that it will ignite imagination and attract acclaim globally. It should house a conference venue, a large concert hall, and a permanent wine expo, along with restaurants, coffee shops, wine bars, workshops and funky and imaginative co-making spaces for artists. There should also be inexpensive office and retail space for start-ups. Most important of all, it should house the Winelands School of Jazz, linking the Stellenbosch Faculty of Music with an international school like the Berklee College of Music.
The wine expo could have displays of all the Stellenbosch wineries, and provide a unique tasting experience. Again the design needs to be cutting edge but relaxed and welcoming. Not a place to be “educated” but a place for those unfamiliar with wine or with South African wine to “explore”. Visitors would buy a preloaded card and the use of Enomatic type wine dispensing machines could minimise wastage. This isn’t a new idea, but in the right space, it could work as well as it does in places like Lisbon.
Why jazz? Because of its wide appeal. It also sits comfortably with wine…even Bordeaux has its own Jazz Festival. Winelands Jazz could become an offshoot of the Cape Town Jazz Festival. Local talent can be developed, and the venue will provide for regular concerts from locals and from the students of the Winelands School of Jazz. Mini jazz festivals and events at wine estates could contribute to solving the seasonality problem.
According to McKinsey, a thriving cultural sector is an essential part of what makes a city great, along with green spaces and immigrants who bring renewal and vigour to city life. The opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in northern Spain in 1997, 20 years after the Pompidou Centre, shows how an imaginatively designed museum commissioned by an energetic mayor can help turn a city around. (The Economist, Dec 2013)
And talking about green spaces, Stellenbosch should ban cars on the university campus and only allow bicycles. It should pedestrianize Dorp and Andringa streets- how about grass rather than tar? Imagine Dorp street as one glorious park- it would be one of the most beautiful in the world.
Su Birch was CEO of Wines of South Africa from 2000 to 2013. She now coaches kids at a local school, runs her own small consultancy called Thinking Seahorses, and is building a new wine tourism website. She is working on presenting the The Business of Wine and Food Tourism conference, to be held at Spier on 1 and 2 November, 2016.