Cape of Good Hope at the Crossroads

Photo: Thembi Tobi
South Africa to be First Country in the World to Issue a "Fair Labour" Seal for Wines/ Black-Owned Firms Successful on the Market

In a country where the white population dominated winegrowing for over 300 years things are now gradually starting to change. 18 years on from the end to apartheid the number of black grape producers and wine-estate owners is growing – slowly but surely just like the rest of the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) process initiated by the Government in 2007. At the same time, the “Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association“ (Wieta) is currently establishing a seal for wines and fruit produced under fair conditions for agricultural labourers, who are predominantly black and/or coloured. These conditions include a ban on child labour and discrimination, proper remuneration, regular working hours, occupational safety measures and the right to form a trade union, to name but a few.

At the same time, the “Rainbow Nation” – as it was once described by Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President Nelson Mandela – is active on export markets as successfully as ever and with a far more positive image: over the past twelve months South African wine exports have risen just short of 8%. In Germany, the world’s most important and largest export market, South Africa has clearly outperformed the competition from Chile and the USA and now ranks fourth behind Italy, France and Spain. The only downside: the lion’s share of this export boom is accounted for by wine sold in bulk, reaching buyers in Germany for an average price of EUR 111 per hectolitre. Searching for new customers from around the globe over 60 South African producers took part in ProWein in Düsseldorf in 2012.
Photo: South Africa
Photo: Vergelegen Estate
Photo: Nederburg
Photo: Entrance Nederburg Estate.
Photo: Paarl Vineyard
Photo: M’Hudi Wines
Photo: Mhudi Family
Photo: Thembi Tobi
Photo: WOZANI at ProWein 2012.
Photo: WOSA at ProWein 2012.
Photo: WOSA at ProWein 2012.
South Africa is a buzzword for most wine lovers. It evokes thoughts of dramatically beautiful landscapes and radiant white mansions in the Cape’s Dutch colonial architecture – like in Groot Constantia, Vergelegen and Nederburg. It evokes Stellenbosch and Franschhoek with its Huguenot settlements, excellent restaurants and very own atmosphere. And it is evocative of Wellington, Tulbagh, Robertson and the cool-climate zones on Walker Bay and Elgin, now increasingly becoming insider tips for racy, elegant white wines. Wineries are mushrooming everywhere. There are currently said to be about 600 in total. Add to this 66 cooperative wineries and some 3,500 grape producers of which many also grow fruit. With a total wine-growing area of 110,000 hectares South Africa is slightly ahead of Germany – just as it is in terms of wine exports, where the country at the Cape of Good Hope ranks seventh in the world.
Photo: Paarl Vineyard

"Things are changing."

Just how drastic the changes in the “Winelands” of the Western Cape Province really are is demonstrated by Thembi Tobi. Six years ago this professional nurse and marketing expert (whose name aptly means hope/optimism) joined a wine farm, which is today entirely owned by former agricultural labourers. With great charm and determination the 50-year old managed to develop this fair-trade operation named after her – today employing eight full-time and eight temporary members of staff – and won herself great respect in the process. “We came up against a lot of resistance but we now have access to everything we need. Things are changing. White colleagues,” says Thembi “are far more open-minded and supportive than before – they have seen what we have achieved over the past few years.”

For processing the grapes from different climate zones the graduate of the University of Stellenbosch Business School set up a joint venture with a well-established colleague Boland Kelder in Paarl. She describes the style of her own wines as “not so full and tannin-focused, rather refined and elegant, easy to understand – a bit like myself.” 70% of the Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and Pinotage wines bearing the Thembi label are exported to Holland, Belgium, Norway and Switzerland. “I’m still looking for an importer for Germany,” says the successful wine grower with a mischievous smile. In South Africa she has built herself a reputation and is appreciated. Her stand at the Cape Wine Show is always well attended – also by colleagues who stop by for a chat.

"Being black does not boost your sales.”

Also drumming up business at the trade fair held in Cape Town only every two years is another ‘career changer’ new to the business. A professor of English at Soweto University in his former life, Diale Rangaka came to the Winelands in 2003 originally intending to buy a farm for cattle-rearing and land cultivation. Instead he ended up purchasing a small wine-growing estate in Stellenbosch – the first ever to be black-owned in South Africa. Today, the whole family is involved in the business, from boss and mother Malmsey, husband Diale through to grown-up children Tseliso, Lebogang and Senyane. The Rangakas focus on marketing the M’Hudi Wines and their associated tourism business, which has already won them awards, and leave the work in the vineyards to professional employed agronomists. Winemaking and ageing is taken care of by their neighbour Villiera Wines, a prestigious family business boasting the “Wieta” certificate.

Some 300,000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinotage, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz are produced by M’hudi today; exports account for 80%. Diale Rangaka still sees a long road to equality ahead: “Being black does not boost your sales.” But conditions in the South African wine industry are changing 18 years on from the end of the apartheid – not least due to pressure from abroad. The Secretary of the “Black Vintners Alliance” puts the number of wineries owned 100% by black South Africans at ten operations, plus another ten which are partly black owned – as is the case with Diemersfontein in Wellington, where part of the production is marketed under the Thokozani label and which is majority-owned by the agricultural workers themselves and black investors.
Photo: Mhudi Family

"Fair labour practice" - a new seal

After its pioneering role in the launch of a seal for eco-friendly wine production in 2010 and then its promotion of fair trade, the third item now on South Africa’s agenda is the question of ethics. Since May 2012 there has been a new “Fair Labour Practice” seal aimed at guaranteeing standards for all agricultural workers – something which is commonplace in Europe but not necessarily on other continents. Just under 100 wineries and production units have already been accredited and numbers are rising rapidly. The ambitious objective pursued by Linda Lipparoni, General Manager at “Wieta”, runs as follows: “By 2013 we want to have certified 25% of all the wines produced in our country.”

The ultimate aim here is a seal endorsed by South Africa’s entire wine-growing industry and one that can serve as a role model for sustainable, fair and ethically correct wine production. Those joining the initiative not only include the Government of the Western Cape but also wine-growing association VinPro, the marketing organisation Wines of South Africa (Wosa), the South African Liquor Board Association (Salba), the “Women on Farms” project and the trade union Sekhula Sonke. Fair working conditions are just one side of the coin, but people in South Africa have also understood that a “clean” image is extremely helpful when vying for consumers’ attention worldwide. VinPro-Director Rico Basson: “People have a right to know that their wine was produced with respect for the environment and the people who work the land.”

Respect is also the buzzword for Diale Rangaka when it comes to South Africa’s future. And this he feels holds true for both sides. “Many of us black people still have to learn a lot about business to understand how capitalism works,” says the 59-year old and adds “but then we should be treated as equals.” The professor from Soweto (“We sell wine rather than blackness bottled”) has shown how to do it. His vintages are exported to Germany, England, Nigeria, Kenya and even

Thomas Brandl