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Q & A with wine expert Olga Hafner

04/03/2016

Her love for travel, business and people has set this businesswoman aside from all the rest as she shares her expertise with fellow wine lovers nationally and abroad. Alumnus Olga Hafner is the director of the Garden Route’s most successful wine suppliers, Meridian Wine Merchants and award – winning wine specialist Olga Hafner celebrates many years in the industry, boasting over 42 family owned labels from 25 estates known locally and globally. Olga shares a bit of her life story with us...

1. How did you end up in a Sales and Marketing career in the wine industry, having studied Psychology?

After graduation, I worked in Market Research, HR and Training and Job Analysis in Johannesburg, spending 18 months working in London and Athens. On my return to Port Elizabeth, I married and had my 2 beautiful sons. I headed up a Direct Sales Company when a fascinating recruitment advert caught my attention in the Sunday Times. Stellenbosch Farmers Winery were establishing a new channel of wine advisors, part of their Wineplan project- the strategy being to create an awareness of wine and a culture of wine appreciation in our country. They were recruiting a team of wine advisors nationally with experience in marketing, lecturing, with a love of food and wine. Being Greek, where the culture of family and friends gathering around a dining table is at the core of family life, it seemed a position made in heaven. I had also stayed with my grandparents on a Greek island when young and had the privilege of harvesting grapes, crushing them with our feet in the barrels, harvesting and pressing their olives, so already my fascination and love of the culture of food and wine was born- I truly feel so blessed to work in this industry, I value it as a daily privilege and not work. 
 

2. What was special about your UPE experience?

I was part of a handful of post graduate students, almost pioneering groups, small classes, dedicated lecturers, awesome mentorships, inspiring and motivational assignments both practical and written. The campus was in Bird Street, a totally different experience to my undergraduate studies and campus at UCT. We had such individual attention and mentorship from our lecturers and professors, that it was a unique and inspiring time to be a student. We were also allowed the privilege of following our personal interests in our field of study, we were a small class of 5, and it was the most stimulating, exciting, motivating years of study for me.
 

3. What are some of the most exciting SA wine market developments you have experienced during the last few years?

I recall the launch of the  “bag in the box, “ the launch of Hunters and Savanna, in the  cider category, the emergence of family owned estates, as opposed to volume driven wines, the plantings of  interesting and international cultivars, the screw cap. — The recognition and emergence  of South African wines on the international stage as premier, awesome  quality, award winning  New World wines , exciting  new terriers, talented  winemakers , estates that are a destination experience, many with world class restaurants, the penetration of the wine culture into the emerging market.  As well as the evolvement of a wonderful education platform for wine called the Cape Wine Academy. 
 

4. You are known as a wine doyenne, but do you have a favourite wine?

I feel with the extraordinary collection of world class family owned estate wines in our formidable portfolio, there is a wine for every occasion, mood, culinary experience, gathering that excites me. Wine is a very exciting product, each with its unique flavour components and stories, where each wine can be married to a particular dish, occasion and setting, to be shared with friends and family. 

 

5. What do you believe helped you achieve success in your career?

My success can be largely attributed to excellent, loyal relationships with our customers who trust my advice, wine knowledge and service commitments. We go further with that extra mile to offer the best service deliverables, wine knowledge and training, trusted and expected wine advice. 

I also had amazing opportunities afforded to me when at Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, extraordinary talented mentors such as the late Ronnie Melck among others.  I was tutored by the most passionate and respected leaders in the wine industry-. We had three intensive weeks in Stellenbosch of training by the leading authorities in every field of winemaking, an experience never again repeated in the history of the wine industry, we were 84 new personnel, receiving the finest training - what a rare and unique opportunity, a gift.  I felt this passion for the fruit of the vine from my early days harvesting grapes with my maternal grandfather on the island of Ithaca in Greece.

I was further offered a unique experience of being invited for over 20 years to host our international agents as our guests for 10 days prior to the Nederburg Auction- it gave me the gift of lasting close friendships with wine personalities from around the world. In the words of the wine writer of the Washington Post, Dee Stone, “The waters of the world divide us; the wines of the world unite us”.  Almost 40 years on, I value these friendships I have forged around the world.

A further great learning curve for me was launching Meridian Garden Route - what a wonderful opportunity given to me to establish and grow a company, from our garden shed to being a shareholder of a national wine marketing and distribution company, representing 42 family owned labels from 25 estates, and our own logistics company. Our success can be credited to the fact  that we still perceive ourselves, the partners, as family, are equally passionate about this marvellous product of the vine, love what we do, love working together as a family/team, feel grateful and humbled daily.

What the wine industry has taught me, is that with every bottle of wine served and shared with family and friends, is a joy to share the story around the wine- the winemaker, its origin, the terrier, the creativity and inspiration behind the craftsmanship of that bottle of wine. Our work involves close relationships with our consumers, clients, the farms, the winemakers - they are the fuel of my passion for this extraordinary industry I have the privilege of being a part of. I wake each morning excited and passionate to do the work I do.

 

 

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