|DRUSSA Fables: Winemakers, trains and knowledge|
|Friday, 02 August 2013 00:00|
A bottle of wine is a knowledge product. Its features, like aroma, taste and texture, are the end result of various sources of knowledge and skill. One could rightfully ask what knowledge sources winemakers rely on when making wine and specifically to what extent they use scientific research findings.
Reflecting upon this question, I remember what a winemaker once told me: the process of winemaking is like a train running along a track. The world of winemakers can thus be seen as a large railway station. It consists of many platforms and trains to cater for every taste and desire, and on each platform is a person in charge of a specific set of trains. The platforms are the wine cellars and those in charge of the trains are the winemakers. It is the winemaker`s responsibility to watch over his or her selection of trains, ensuring that these remain on track through the tricky process of fermentation, and safely reach their destination – wine. The winemaker would normally step in only when facing a situation that could cause derailment. But where do winemakers get the necessary knowledge from, to safely guide their trains to their destinations, whether it is to intervene or merely to fine tune the schedules?
The answer is simple. While standing on the platform watching over their trains, winemakers do the most human thing possible: they talk to fellow winemakers. In a recent survey of more than 200 South African winemakers, I found that 81% consult other winemakers for advice at least once every three months. Many winemakers are also technologically informed. It came as no surprise that they surf the internet while watching over their trains; 78% of winemakers said they did so at least once every three months. Having something to read is also very handy while waiting on a platform. For winemakers in the Western Cape Winelands of South Africa it is a section in the WineLands magazine called Wynboer. Seventy-four percent read the section every month, either in part or in its entirety. Through the train`s open windows winemakers also engage in small talk with some of the passengers sitting in some of the carriages. These are wine consumers who have a clear end destination in mind -- again, 74% of winemakers said they obtained feedback from wine consumers on the quality of wine products at least once every three months.
Chatting to other winemakers and wine consumers, surfing the internet and reading the wine industry magazine are things that winemakers most frequently do while watching over their trains. These represent frequently used knowledge sources and they are important knowledge sources. And the survey revealed that about 76% of winemakers regarded their own experience as extremely important to their winemaking.
Compared with all of these knowledge sources, a mere nine percent of winemakers cited the South African Journal of Enology and Viticulture, the leading science journal in its field in the country. Thus, personal knowledge and experience is what winemakers predominantly use to keep their trains on track. I would even go so far as to say that for some winemakers scientific research is no more than a news agent tucked away in a corner of the station.
The irony is that researchers often don`t even realise that their scientific contributions are in those crumpled old magazines gathering dust next to a railway track. In their minds their articles are at the top of the pile at the station`s newsstand.
Would you agree with the statement that researchers need to start thinking in terms of the world of their users when communicating their research findings, if they are to successfully bridge the gap between knowledge and practice?
Dr Nelius Boshoff is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), University of Stellenbosch