Good and Bad Apples

Vergelegen wine estate

Living conditions on wine farms in South Africa have been receiving a great deal of negative publicity from a New York-based independent NGO Human Rights Watch report, where the main title gives the flavour of its contents: “Ripe with Abuse.”

As Tim James, an independent wine writer observes … let us ‘’hope that … this report will not primarily be the occasion of worry about whether it might damage wine and fruit exports. It should, rather, be the occasion for more people in all parts of the wine industry (including consumers) to take cognisance of the real problems, the human sadness and suffering that are, unfortunately, an integral part of our terroir’’.

And Cathy Van Zyl, South Africa’s only Master of Wine, adds …’’having a conscience costs … so reports like these generally cause only ripples before sinking into oblivion. The real measure of the SA wine industry will be to not let that happen; to rather use the report as a stake in the ground and ensure that the industry moves beyond it’’.

‘’Bringing light to an unacceptable situation has to be a good thing. However, and this is a big however, one of the easiest things in the world is to cherry pick a few bad apples and label the whole orchard as rotten’’ state John & Lynne Ford of Main Ingredient, who ‘’spend a lot of time in the winelands’’.

Here are some good apples that we’d like you to hear about:
Diemersfontein in Wellington gave their workers the opportunity to become shareholders in the company with their Thokozani programme and to develop, manage and enjoy the fruits of areas of enterprise – a wine range, guesthouse, coffee shop and an art gallery – on the farm.
The Cape Winemakers’ Guild has an extensive Protegé programme to develop and train farm workers, several of whom have been trained to university level in winemaking and a programme to educate and develop workers’ children’’.
Solms Delta, in an unprecedented move to institute land reform, persuaded long-time friend, philanthropist Richard Astor, scion of a celebrated Anglo-American family, to buy the neighbouring farm, in order to increase the estate’s development capital. Solms and Astor then both put their farms up as collateral so that a third, adjoining farm could be purchased by the workers. The farmworkers are now equal shareholders with them via The Wijn de Caab Trust, with the profit from wine sales used to build and refurbish decent homes for the workers and families, create recreational facilities, and provide myriad other social services, including private education and healthcare.

Stories that inspire, individuals who make a difference. We’ll be tracking the new breed of black empowerment winemakers making their mark among vineyards that once were a bastion of apartheid.


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