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In a valley in Wellington

Lifestyle Section - Wine


It's remarkable to think that 65% of all Fairtrade wine sold in the world are South African. This fact was highlighted at the recent Fairtrade week – which among other things included the launch of premium Fairtrade wine range De Bos, from Bosman Family Vineyards in Wellington, and culminated in a ceremony in which one of the Cape’s most well-loved chefs and restaurateurs, Reuben Riffel, was signed on as a Fairtrade ambassador.

A visit to Bosman’s in the Bovlei valley last week, confirmed that this large farm is one of the prime examples of the Fairtrade model built on a partnership –  which sees workers and owners both benefiting in the deal.

Established in 1699, with the current Bosman owners having set the trend eight generations ago, Bosman’s is not only a wine farm, but its vine nursery Lelienfontein is known as one of the biggest vine nurseries on the African continent, supplying rootstock to most of the wineries in the Cape.

More than 250 people are employed permanently on the farm, and it means that a large and satisfied working community is vital to the continued well-being there.

In 2009 the farm received Fairtrade accreditation following years of what brand manager Neil Buchner calls “ethical production” – which involves not only fair and ethical social development, but ensuring that sustainability is a sound practice on the farm.

In the 250-year old cellar, I meet Klaas Morkel, whose family are descendants of the legendary Adam Appollis, who five generations ago tilled and worked the the land, and today has two wines and a trust named after him.

Mr Morkel is designated as a full-time community developer on the farm, and oversees the many projects that benefit workers.

Included are the awarding of bursaries; the De Rust day care centre; a karate club where several of the youth have shone; the Frank Pietersen Music School (where 67 different instruments are played!); a library and a youth club.

Another project, The Bosman Farming Youth, sees youth aged between 12 to 20 years involved in activities that create HIV and TB awareness and, as Mr Morkel says, tries to focus on positive activities for youngsters. The older members are also part of the neighbourhood watch, adds Mr Morkel.

Fairtrade funds have also facilitated a retirement home and a training centre, in which 80% of the workers are involved, and it  includes skills training in pruning the vineyards, fire fighting, financial management, marketing, health and safety and more.

Mr Morkel quotes the mantra of the farm: “If you care for the people who do the work, the people care about what they do,” and he tells Bolander he is exceptionally proud to be part of the farm: “We are like one family,” he says.

In addition to all the projects, he points outside the tasting room to a shiny new bus, parked across from the vineyards. It has just been bought to transport children to extra-mural activities, and workers to functions. He says that various play parks have been set up, and another recent innovation was a garden competition – last year there were 53 entrants and already residents are gearing up for the next competition.

“Here we focus on the positive and celebrate our victories,” he smiles.

Petrus Bosman, the managing director of Bosman Family Vineyards, is an eighth generation member of Bosman Family Vineyards. His great-great-grandfather Jan Christoffel Bosman started a secondary school on the farm back in the 19th century – setting the golden thread, as he calls, it of “positive and fruitful relations” between the labourers and the farmers.

But it all actually started in 1707, when Hermanus Bosman arrived in South Africa as a sieke trooster (consoler of the sick). His grandson, Petrus Wilhelmus Jacobus (Pieter) Bosman, became the first relative to farm Lelienfontein in 1798.

Pieter bought the neighbouring farm on the advice of “Lang Kootjie” (long bunk) Malan, the owner of the estate at that time. It wasn’t long before Pieter fell in love with and married “Lang Kootjie’s” daughter, Sophie, and on her father’s retirement, he bought Lelienfontein.

Some years later the vine nursery was born, and before long the strong, disease-resistant Bosman vines propelled the farm into its current role as a major supplier to some of South Africa’s most renowned wineries. Today the farm’s on site catalogue lists close to 50 different varietals – putting it at the very forefront of the ethos of “from roots to vines”.

“Wellington is the cradle of South African wine,” explains Mr Buchner. “More than 85% of the country’s vineyards are planted from vines that are grafted here.”

As we sit at the long wooden table in the cellar, where walls are stained red from wines where the old cement tanks used to be, Petrus comments: “The vine nursery is extremely labour intensive,” adding, “people that do the work need to be happy.”

Prior to being Fairtrade accedrited, a landmark joint venture was agreed on, in which Bosman Family Vineyards and partners Adama Workers Trust formed what is considered the biggest black economic empowerment deal in the wine industry.

Some 430ha of prime farming land was transferred to Adama Appolo Holdings, which is 100% owned by eligible workers on the farm. Also included is a 50% share in De Rust (Pty) Ltd and De Bos Landgoed (Pty) Ltd, a 5% stake in Bosman Boerdery (Pty) Ltd and 30% in Bosman Family Vineyards (Pty) Ltd. The wine cellar is now fully owned by the trust.

As a result, Petrus says: “We have had a huge (30%) drop in Monday absenteeism, and more than 20% of the staff have been here for more than 20 years”.

He says that while the first year following Fairtrade accreditation “was a bumpy ride, we are now forming permanent structures and the individuals are taking responsibility”.

The De Bos wines that were launched just over a week ago are all made by hand. Says Petrus: “We are trying to build on more aspirational brands.”

The grapes for the wines were mostly grown in the Walker Bay area, and include among others a delicious creamy chenin blanc, superb sauvignon blanc, and varietal-driven cabernet sauvignon – made in the Wellington cellar by Corlea Fourie and assistant winemaker Charlene Ferreira, herself the daughter of workers on the farm.

Talking about the good things that have come out of generations of working together, Petrus says: “We put an enormous amount into communication. Workers can feel a sense of ownership and there’s this wonderfully positive force in the workplace.”

* On Friday March 1, Reuben Riffel was signed on as an ambassador for Fairtrade in South Africa.

Mr Riffel told Bolander that he did not know much about Fairtrade prior to a visit to Bosman Family Vineyards, where he had the opportunity to experience how it is put into practice.

He spent the day talking to farm workers and also visited some of the farm’s social projects, funded by the Fairtrade Development Premium.

The day also included a visit to the vineyards, and a demonstration of Fairtrade’s sustainability initiative. Part of the environmental project includes the planting of spekboom, which offsets carbon dioxide.

“After my visit to Bosman’s I saw the potential of Fairtrade, and was inspired to get more involved,” he said.

As brand ambassador for Fairtrade in South Africa, Mr Riffel plans to increase awareness here of Fairtrade with particular attention to the hospitality industry. “On the surface it will be things like selling Fairtrade coffee (he is already selling De Bos wines at his Franschhoek restaurant) – but the bigger picture is to visit more Fairtrade farms and see how to carve a way to make things more effective and enrich others’ lives. I plan to spread the word.”

“We are proud to welcome Reuben to the Fairtrade family,” says Boudewijn Goossens, executive director of Fairtrade Label South Africa.

“He is well aware of the threat to food security and the importance of ethical practices, and was a natural choice as an ambassador in our efforts to demonstrate how various industries can be a part of creating a more equal and sustainable Africa through Fairtrade,” he added.

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