First Impressions: Cape Town, South Africa

By Lesley Green, Global MBA student, United States

Thomas, Gopi, Joosuk and I were selected a few months ago to complete our summer International Immersion Project at Backsberg winery in collaboration with the University of Stellenbosch Business School in Cape Town, South Africa.

The four of us arrived in Cape Town on Monday evening just in time to catch a beautiful sunset over Table Mountain.  After the slow process of getting through customs, we exited baggage claim and we were welcomed into the country by the UBS coordinator, Charmaine Kapp. She was very excited to see us and very quick to offer advice for surviving four weeks "in the bush."  Thomas, Gopi, Joosuk and I packed into the van with our 10 suitcases and started the 45 minute journey to Backsberg Estate Cellars in Paarl, our home for the next few weeks.  We met up with Simon Back, the co-owner of Backsberg along with his father Michael, to have dinner before getting settled in for some hard-earned sleep after travelling for 24 hours.

Tuesday morning we started the project: how to make Backsberg better by improving the business model, growing sales on site, in ZA and abroad, and focusing their efforts to become more efficient.  It's been a hectic, if not cold, few days full of interviews, researching history, getting to know the staff, and running the numbers.  We had a lovely tour around the vineyard and were taught the entire wine making process from growing the grapes to bottling the fermented wine.  They have some really terrific wines and are known throughout the area for their Merlot, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage varietals.  Pinotage grapes were even invented by the USB program!

It was a bit difficult at first, since South Africa is so warm most of the year, it is a bit lacking in the centralized heating department.  But it's been a great experience so far, even including a run-in with the local wildlife; Thomas and Joosuk had to catch a mouse in the kitchen!  Hopefully, we will see some more wildlife on this trip including some penguins, but hope to stay away from the leopards that live on the Simonsberg mountain near the vineyard.  Looking forward to helping this wine estate with 96 years of history become a household name, getting the IIP completed, and being one step closer to graduation.

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