WHEN the doors open on the 36th annual Mercury Wine Week, the Grindrod Wine Theatre will be the proud centrepiece for wine enthusiasts looking to broaden their knowledge not only by tasting but also via professional master classes.

Being hosted at the Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World for the eighth time (and last in the outdoor marquee venue before the iconic centre undergoes its multi-million-rand expansion), this year’s event brings together around 80 exhibitors and literally hundreds of new wines for sipping, comparing and purchasing from August 27 to 29.

The dynamic shift is the Grindrod Wine Theatre – three sessions nightly where winemakers will have a 15-minute platform before a private audience in an intimate and information-rich setting. Entry into the theatre is included in the ticket price, but each session will be limited on a first-come, first-served basis to 30 people – and the topics are guaranteed to add another dimension to the wine-tasting experience and knowledge sharing.

More broadly, the show promises wine enthusiasts the opportunity to interact with winemakers, distributors and estate representatives to taste the new vintages making their appearances on bottle store shelves and stock up their cellars after drinking out the stocks purchased last year.

In a nutshell, both Ernest Hemmingway and Winston Churchill famously said life was too short to drink bad wine, but the flipside is everyone needs the opportunity to seek out those wines deemed worthy of savouring.

Since South Africa embraced democracy, the local wine industry has exploded in the number of participants and styles. Interaction with the international market has paved the way for experimentation, questions and innovation – elements always at the forefront of The Mercury Wine Week experience.

Latest Statistics SA data released in the Platter’s South African Wines 2014 shows South Africa is the world’s eighth-largest wine-producing nation by volume. France, with 18.4 percent of global production is the biggest followed by Italy (15.4 percent) and Spain (12.7 percent).

South Africa produces around 967 million litres of wine annually, contributing 3.6 percent towards the global pot. Yet, since being welcomed back into the international fold, our industry has benefited exponentially from exposure to new techniques, improvements to quality and the potential for taking our wines to unexplored markets – and these are accolades in which South Africans can gloat and are reason enough to taste wines during the show.

Show co-ordinator Darryl Wood from Conker Exhibitions says most stands will be manned by the individual winemakers, offering visitors the chance to question the experts on the finer technical details and assist them in recognising the different flavour components.

There are both stalwarts and newcomers attending this year’s event – from Anura to Zevenwacht and most others in between. Among the newer faces are Bosman Family Vineyards, Earthbound, Ghost Corner, Laibach, Oneiric, Rijk’s and Tokara, while the banners fly high for the returns of Fairview (with their award-winning cheeses), KWV, Haute Cabriere, Meerlust and Raka as only a handful.

Gems will abound among the hundreds of wines, so a few worth hunting down may include the Durbanville Hills Rhinofields Pinotage 2012 that recently scooped a gold medal and the regional trophy best wine in show awards at the Decanter World Wine Awards. The wine was also named best South African red single varietal under £15  (R275).

Simonsig also recently walked away from the 20th Concours Mondial de Bruxelles awards with four gold medals for its Fran Malan 2010 Cape blend, Redhill Pinotage 2011, Chenin Avec Chêne 2012 and Chardonnay 2013. It also received silver medals for the Merindol Syrah 2011 and Mr Borio’s Shiraz 2011.

However, drinking and driving can never be condoned and The Mercury Wine Week is again partnering with Buddys Designated Drivers to offer show specials on their service and ensure patrons get home legally, safely and without risking either their life or those of fellow Durbanites.

However, beyond the frivolity, this event has always had at its heart fund-raising for The Mercury Hibberdene Children’s Holiday Home. Situated on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, this project provides underprivileged, often orphaned, children with the experience of a seaside holiday.

This year R50000 will be donated to the project from ticket sales to ensure these children can frolic in the waves, build sand-castles and be enriched by memories of a holiday because members of the public enjoyed an evening of wine-tasting.

When the home’s doors were officially opened on March 31, 1935 the express purpose was

providing children’s holidays with many of the initial recipients orphans from World War I.

Since then its walls have heard the squeals of delight from generations of youth and its floors have been the welcome repositories for mountains of beach sand trundled in after sand-building competitions.

These children are drawn from across the province. Today some of them are supported in homes by welfare services; some are orphans in child-headed households and some are just desperately-poor children living on welfare grants.

The home accommodates 120 children equally separated in two cheery dormitories overlooking the garden, swimming pool and the much-anticipated beach on its boundary. The grounds lend themselves to ball games and organised sports, while the community hall gives vent to talent concerts, shows and indoor entertainment.

Camps are organised for every school holiday with two or three scheduled during the longer breaks.

Tickets, on sale both at the door and via Computicket, cost R100 a head and patrons gain entrance from 5:30pm.

 Subs: the currency symbol is British pounds in case it gets lost in translation.