Ivan Xelelo, a senior cellar assistant at Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West, has been named SA Cellar Worker of the Year 2016, taking a big step closer to realising his dream of becoming a winemaker.

Xelelo, whose family hail from Elliot in the Eastern Cape, is the first Xhosa speaking winner of the annual competition and has set himself the long term goal of becoming a winemaker.

He was one of 369 cellar workers attending a study group series presented by Winetech and the SA Cellar Worker Programme, which recognise cellar workers valuable contribution to the industry. The top students were selected to take part in a programme sponsored by the VinPro Foundation and underwent a final evaluation, with Xelelo named the overall winner for 2016.

The married father of two, gave special thanks to his winemaker mentors Hannes Nel, Timothy Witbooi, Chris Joubert and Andre van Rensburg.

“We’ve seen Ivan grow since participating in the study groups and programme. He has acquired knowledge and life skills beyond the spectrum of the usual cellar environment, but also gained confidence and a real love for wine,” says Hannes Nel, Cellarmaster at Lourensford.

Xelelo’s parents live on a neighbouring farm where his father works as supervisor in the Forestry department, and he was born in 1986 just down the road in the Hottentots Holland Hospital.

After school he began working at Vergelegen where he completed his National Certificate in Wine Processing before moving to Lourensford for new challenges.

“I enjoy working at Lourensford as I learn something new each day and there are opportunities to grow. My favourite part is working with the red wines: from emptying out the red fermenter, through to the pressing and filling of the barrels,” said Xelelo.

As SA Cellar Worker of the Year 2016, Xelelo will form part of the Circle of Excellence, a programme for further knowledge sharing, mentoring and support.

“Ivan’s big dreams are becoming an assistant winemaker and eventually a winemaker,” says Nel. “At Lourensford we are extremely proud of what he has already achieved and have no doubt that Ivan will realise his dreams, because he definitely has the perseverance!”