Age Time Bomb

In numerous developed countries, particularly places like Italy and Japan, an ageing demographic is becoming problematic. The recent financial crisis was a contributing factor to short term economic contraction, but gone are the days of long-term rapid growth for these nations, as the population shrinks and the workforce ages.

It may be somewhat shocking to our colleagues in the developed world, but farm employers are responsible for housing their employees and immediate families from birth to death. No other sector in South Africa works in this way, and probably few economic sectors anywhere in the world. Whatever the argument may be for and against, this is the status quo that has been entrenched in our labour legislation and secure of tenure.

This creates a plural problem; agriculture is heavily burdened by additional responsibility and financial burden, as rural employees are burdened by their work and domicile being inextricably linked. It creates a level of insecurity amongst both parties: employer and employee. As aforementioned, it is the standard arrangement from the distant past. Creating more independence will be difficult and may take a generation or two. As for now, farm-owner and farmer-worker remain linked by land, law and legacy.

One issue threatens employer and employee: an ageing workforce. Just as the introductory analogy places strain on developed nations, the swelling population of rural retirees is causing logistical stress and infrastructural shortages. By law, retirees must be accommodated on the farms where previously employed; but there are just so many homes.

When a family home is occupied by an unproductive retiree, it means that a productive young family cannot be accommodated and more jobs cannot be created. This is a cruel truism, not to insinuate our elderly do not require our care and affection, but rather to find a workable solution that sees the elderly, the productive youthful and agri-business owner benefit. This too, is important for a country with chronic unemployment and farms that are generally understaffed and financially overburdened.

Looking for a holistic solution, we would like to embark on the same mutually beneficial journey we have taken with Lorraine Primary School, our early-childhood development programme and the FairExchange Healthcare Post. The long-term solution is not working farm-by-farm, but by looking after the needs of the aged as an entire Fairhills community. The retirees have similar needs and similar issues, these might include lack-of-mobility, need for additional healthcare, easily managed and maintained housing etc.

The darker side lurks beneath; where as any young family could become aggrieved by elderly parents resisting their moving into the limelight, so a similar specter can lurk in farming communities. This happens when retirees become belligerent when asked to move to smaller staff-homes for a couple, allowing working families with children to move into the larger family staff-homes. This downsizing with age is a natural progression, but this logic is often conflated with being relegated. This could be remedied if the elderly have a life-path that provides late-in-life dignity and services, but allows farms to get on with what they’re supposed to do, produce. Effective production can only occur if the infrastructure is used at optimum and the workforce is productive.

We need to work steadily towards a revolutionary retirement policy and plan for the Fairhills community. As we have pioneered healthcare and education through our stellar Fairtrade project, so we can pioneer a new vision for the rural aged; one of dignity, care and mutual benefit, thereby giving the old, young and business peace-of-mind.

Winelands Toll Trap

The proposed tolling of the N1 and N2 in the Winelands has raised the ire of most residents and local government entities in the province. The City of Cape Town and SANRAL (South African National Roads Agency) seem set for another court showdown. The demand for clarity on toll-costs and socio-economic implications is not only fair; all citizens in this province should demand this information, as this project could have significant impacts on the economy and thus, the prosperity of affected areas in the Western Cape, particularly the eastern Winelands and Overberg.

The N1 (proposed to be tolled) in the Rawsonville district

The N1 (proposed to be tolled) in the Rawsonville district

PROJECT SCOPE: SANRAL has declared the N1 as a toll-road from Old Oak Interchange to Sandhills in the Hex River Valley and the N2 from the R300 Interchange to Bot River. Three tolls along each route are proposed. On the N1, these proposed toll plazas are at Joostenbergvlakte, the existing Huguenot Toll Plaza (where fees are proposed to be significantly raised) and Glen Heatlie between Worcester and De Doorns. On the N2, one plaza is proposed near Khayelitsha, one at Sir Lowry’s Pass and the other, at Bot River. Don’t think you’ll be able to get around the tolls, where viable alternative routes exists, like the R101 Du Toitskloof Pass, SANRAL will construct ramp-toll plazas on these exits.

They are planning some significant upgrades to the roads, so why is the Western Cape populace vexed? The anger in Gauteng over the controversial eTolls is still boiling over, yet SANRAL sees fit to set another pot to high-heat in our province. The Auditor General reports on countless billions being misspent per annum, yet SANRAL, a government parastatal, pleads poverty. Furthermore, the stark contrast in this province, where most roads are (Provincial Government – Western Cape) PGWC maintained, from the fiscus. Our infrastructure is generally well maintained, unlike numerous other provinces. The N1 and N2 westwards form the aforementioned points, where SANRAL jurisdiction ends, is in a better condition. In recent years these PGWC sections have seen resurfacing, highway lighting and the significant upgrading of numerous interchanges take place. Thus the resident logically asks, “Why can the PGWC maintain and upgrade our roads with our tax-money whilst SANRAL is unable to do so?”

Admittedly, there are bottlenecks in our infrastructure in these proposed tolled-areas: one being the N1 at the Huguenot Tunnel and two, the N2 through Somerset West and Strand. I am not against greenfields tolling. Thus, the Helderberg Bypass could be constructed without entrapping the Elgin Valley. The opening of the second Huguenot Tunnel (already bored – requires lining and equipping) is not up for debate. This sector is already user-pays and has been so since 1989; road improvements go without saying.

The economic impacts could be serious indeed. SANRAL commissions studies that investigate the economic impact of the “do nothing” or “if they toll” scenarios. This creates a bias in the analysis. No roads agency or governmental entity is entitled to “do nothing” to the infrastructure, as population, road-usage and by inference, revenue increases. Even under this potentially biased analysis, undertaken by UCT Graduate Business School, it is admitted that communities north-east of Paarl would see little cost-benefit in the short to medium-term, as traffic volumes are too light. Even under their analysis, agriculture could experience hardship, the lifeblood of these communities. Even under their analysis, the Hex River and Elgin Valleys would become entrapped to tolls, cut off from their service centre towns, major markets and neighbouring engines of economic growth. Even with this information, SANRAL has to date, made no attempt to move toll plazas to locations that would not hold these communities hostage. They have admittedly, offered Hex River Valley residents the option of toll discounts.

Furthermore, rural tolling is an even crueler pursuit, as public-transit or non-motorised transit options simply don’t exist and probably never will. This seriously disadvantages rural communities and the workforce, such as those under FairTrade’s umbrella. It restricts their freedom of movement and access to economic and service centres in the province, as mobility is made unaffordable.

Grabouw and De Doorns, communities plagued by recent civil upheaval, will be the worst affected. Whatever the reason for the recent unrest, the obvious catalysts remain lack of employment and poor local economic conditions. With spiraling fuel and transport costs, additional tolling has only one outcome for these communities on an economic and social knife-edge. Communities like Rawsonville, where we are located, have had a perennial struggle to attract tourist numbers. The toll tunnel has acted as a psychological barrier for years. Additional toll gates and fees on these routes will only exacerbate the issue. Tourists and Capetonian wine-drinkers will not only think twice before venturing out along the N1 and N2, they’ll think thrice.

Where possible, tourists and residents alike will look to the free-to-use provincial roads to escape the toll; this will severely burden these secondary routes and the provincial transport department. For areas such as the Breede River Valley, no viable alternative exists and businesses and communities will be kept entrapped and tourists, out. For a wine company constantly aiming for value-for-money, this could seriously impact on our business model of bringing products to the consumer at affordable prices.

SANRAL’s public participation process has lacked reach and transparency, where the bare legal minimum is done in consulting with communities. There’s a universal awareness of the intense public opposition to the inequitable user-pays policy. We already pay through hefty fuel-levies which rise annually, along with the spiraling cost of fuel in South Africa. Ring-fence the levy, make them provincially imposed according to local need. It’s the cheapest and most equitable form of roads funding there is, with the least risk of graft or corruption.

My suggestion if SANRAL is unable to fund their infrastructure: cede control of the roads west of Bloukrans River and Three Sisters to the Provincial Government of the Western Cape. Allow the national treasury to grant them that equitable share of SANRAL’s allocated budget for these road-sectors. It is clear our provincial administration is able to maintain the infrastructure under their jurisdiction.

By: Andres de Wet (DuToitskloof Online Content Manager)

Knowledge is Power

dem·a·gogue 

/’demə,gäg/

Noun

A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

Admittedly this is a hard hitting definition for a wine industry article. Why this charged introduction? Leaders of this type can be dangerous to nations and even specific industries. Numerous developing nations have fallen into their clutches and recently, some personalities influencing agricultural policy in South Africa, have reared their heads.

A book a day keeps the demagogue at bay. Poor policy, poor practices, poor economic ideology and poor leadership is kept ay bay by an intelligent populous. Agriculture and the wine industry in particular, is in a fragile state at Africa’s southern tip. Without government support, often enjoyed by our northern hemisphere counterparts, eking out a living off the land can be a stressful one. Having personalities running about, with the aforementioned definition, could be a nail in the metaphorical coffin for some. There is only one solution: knowledge; Empowering the workforce with information and education to identify red herrings, before they take hold of a once thriving industry.

This is exactly what FairTrade and DuToitskloof’s Fairhills Project does. We have noticed a promising trend amongst the rural workforce on member farms. The digital satellite dishes decorate the roofs of homes, alongside the solar water heating panels. Smart phones and MP3 players are becoming commonplace, with working activity often sounding like a mini-concert in the vines. Social media activity is on the increase. First and foremost, the project’s library and computer centre on Lorraine is being well-utilised, free access to information technology and the internet is precipitating a knowledge revolution in the Fairhills’ community.

This all makes for a well-informed workforce that has a greater understanding of the world around him/her, a grasp of what is fair practice and what is not, an insight into current affairs and how to make informed decisions in an adolescent democracy, like South Africa’s. One also cannot discount how access to information can forge advancement in critical thinking and therefore, raise the value of human capital in these communities.

Improved employee-employer relations are a result. The recent labour upheaval in the agricultural sector was one such example. DuToitskloof and its associated producers experienced no issues. This is due in part to a successful empowerment project, but can also be attributed to a workforce that thinks critically, asks pertinent questions, can grasp basic economics and is informed enough to understand when someone/something is creating faux outrage for some external gain.

Not only can we thank our successful Fairhills Project and the FairTrade ethos for this blessing, but we need to thank the maturity of our community, staff members and foresight of the producers. Knowledge is power. Rather than legislating people out of poverty, a short-term solution with some painful consequences; we opted for a long-term permanent fix, educating, upskilling and informing people into greater prosperity. We all are bearing the fruits of this knowledge harvest that in turn, makes for a more successful, sustainable and pleasurable viticultural harvest.

 

Can Newer Wine Regions Make Waves?

Breedekloof Wine Route, surrounding the village of Rawsonville, can learn a tremendous amount from newer wine regions. Although the art of growing vines and making wine is an old, intrinsic art in the valley, the wine route as a marketing entity, is relatively new. Thus, the area faces numerous challenges in making a name for itself.

Hermanus-vs-Rawsonville

I picked up the new Essential Guide to South African Wines: Terroir & Travel (authors: Elmari Swart, Izak Smit); I was excited by its fresh look, reminding me of the graphics-rich DK Travel Guides. I was left disappointed, albeit not all that surprised, when I realised the Breede River Valley appeared glaringly absent, despite it being the largest, by-volume, contributor to Cape Winelands’ production.  There it finally was, Breedekloof and Worcester, given a concise, text-based description, alongside Plettenberg Bay and Orange River towards the end of the book.

Where I picked up this book was more significant though. I was in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, one of South Africa’s southernmost regions, just to the north of picturesque, whale-famous, Hermanus. It too, is a newer wine route, with Walker Bay only afforded full wine region status in May 2004. It has its shortcomings and strengths, as does our region, the Breedekloof. What we lack, they have and conversely: They have a tourist hub town, we do not; they have no major tarred through route, we do. This will soon change, as the R320 is being sealed from the Hemel-en-Aarde valley to the N2 in Caledon.

Their uniqueness as a region is glaringly obvious. Somehow the cellars are doing something out-of-the-ordinary here, that sets this region apart, even from juggernauts like Stellenbosch and Frasnchhoek. It’s quirky, fresh, accommodating and amenity-rich, without being commercial cheese. Could this be why this dead-end road with no sealed outlet (yet), appears to be thriving? Is it the power of Hermanus over the Camphill Ridge? Or is it that one cellar struts her stuff in Parisian burlesque garb, whilst another does so in traditional Cape-Dutch attire? One cellar oozes über-contemporary chic and the other, gothic revivalist grace? Is it that some are glaringly nouveau-riche and others, historic-conservationist and traditional? The diversity in a distance of barely 10km, was so much to take in: I was happy, in awe, but exhausted.

One may say we have an uphill battle, as the village of Rawsonville could never compete with the town, that is Hermanus. This is probably true for the foreseeable future; they just have the tourism critical mass already. They have the sea and the whales and we don’t. However, we do have greater wine volumes, offer better value-for-money, taller mountains and easier access to all parts of the Cape and the rest of South Africa for that matter. All our roads are already tarred, so why the lack of attention?

Could it lie in our ability to be quirky, to redefine ourselves and create that in our cellars: setting us apart, making ourselves unique? I’m still debating how this can be enacted, but one thing is for sure, Hemel-en-Aarde is one unique little area with some weird and wonderful cellars. If our wine route’s value-for-money, wine quality and statuesque beauty is anything to go by, our region could do the same. We just need to find that thing that defines us. We need to do that, which the regional juggernauts cannot do, and do it well. If a “dead-end valley” can do it, so can we.

The State of the Wines Address

Our winemakers unwinding at End of Year function, Chris Geldenhuys, Shawn Thomson & Willie Stofberg

Our winemakers unwinding at End of Year function: Chris Geldenhuys, Shawn Thomson & Willie Stofberg

I have found it particularly tough to write in recent weeks; the writer’s block was due to mutually exclusive reasons. One, the preoccupation with the redesign of our website and two, the spate of rural unrest that swept through the Western Cape in recent weeks.

Our website is a very positive development. It has taken a number of months to come to fruition, as we attempted to communicate “Du Toitskloof’s personality” on a computer screen. Quantifying it and putting personality to design is more complex a process than we had anticipated. However, with much collaboration, numerous marketing meetings and working with wine.co.za, we managed to work within their web-design template and come up with something more visually-stimulating, fresh and streamlined.

We have firmly jumped on the social media bandwagon in 2012 and this is reflected on our improved website, with a “Social Media Toolbox” located at the bottom of the page. With the plethora of platforms that appeal to different people, from Pinterest to Twitter, from Facebook to WordPress, we needed to speak to everyone without creating a cluttered appearance. We’re hoping our clients have found our increasing diversity useful and tailor-made to their needs.

On the slightly unpleasant side, the rural unrest in certain Western Cape farming communities has had us quite alarmed; the gross generalisation of public utterances have been extremely disheartening. As one of the largest FairTrade (Fairhills project) flag-bearers in Africa, with empowerment and best- in-industry labour credentials, it was heartbreaking and disappointing to have the entire industry painted with one broad brush by political opportunists.

Public anger was stirred in certain towns amongst the seasonal rural workforce or unemployed living in informal settlements. So much of the so-called “farm worker strike” was peppered more with rural-town service-delivery issues, structural societal unemployment and political posturing than it was for its media moniker: farm protest. This is evident in our valley, where seasonal work is rare, our community is part of the Fairhills project and where sound labour practices and rural empowerment is priority. You cannot mobilise content people working for mutual benefit, so we escaped the contagion. Through the hard work of farm employees and our accredited producers and their constant, collective engagement, we have escaped unscathed as a community and stronger than ever.

In better news, 2012 has been the year of the accolade. We have been completely humbled by the slew of awards that our wines have accumulated. Just late last week, three of DuToitskloof box-wine offerings made it to the Top10 in South Africa, with our Chenin Blanc taking poll position. This came on the back of a very successful Michelangelo Awards ceremony, awarding numerous of our wines, including an auspicious double gold for our Dimension red-blend. The FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top10 awards named us as one of the best in the nation and the only larger producer to win such a stamp of high-quality approval.  Even our brand new, naturally sparkling range, Cape Beach Club, was awarded as Best Value for Money wine in its category for 2013.

With the last couple of years being the time of austerity, we are pleased to offer wines of distinction at excellent prices. Stressed consumers don’t have to sacrifice their inner sommelier in lieu of their wallet. We will happily oblige no matter what the packaging may be; we do not compromise on excellence between the bottle or box, cork or screw-cap.

We are also getting close to announcing our premier red-blend range. At an exclusive tasting, prominent wine commentators were invited to the cellar to taste Willie Stofberg’s latest and greatest straight from the barrels. Once Quest is launched, we will have all bases covered and we will offer a wine for any occasion.

In the vineyards, things are looking good for 2013. Most vines look particularly healthy and although we had some pretty vicious wind over the last week or two, the damage appears to be minimal. The best Christmas present we can receive is if the weather continues to play ball; we could be in for a good harvest if current estimates are anything to go by. With a good winter behind us, our water reserves are also looking healthy for the latter part of summer.

Finally, but by no means least important, is the role that you, the loyal Du Toitskloof consumer, has played in making 2012 great. Thank you for continually believing in us, our producers, our winemakers, our workforce and other contributing parties. Thank you for rewarding our continued efforts to produce value-of-money wines in a socially responsible manner. Thank you for always arriving at the store and saying, “When in doubt, go with Du Toitskloof.” This vote of confidence in our unwavering commitment to consistent quality, is what keeps us successful and means we too, can look forward to an even better 2013 with your support.

We Don’t Do Cooperation

Agri WesKaap, the Western Cape provincial department of agriculture, was insightful enough to notice local valley farmers were struggling with environmental legislation. They were proactive enough to come forward with a solution. To cut a long story short, wine farmers sometimes have natural ground on their properties that are suitable for agricultural expansion. However, environmental legislation dictates that environmental impact studies must be done if vineyards are to encroach on virgin land. These impact studies can cost upwards of R100,000 each, often out-of-reach of capital-strained family-run farms.

You would think the farming fraternity would be elated that the provincial government gave the environmental mapping project R400,000, to aid them in identifying suitable land for expansion and cutting costs of subsequent impact studies. However, this was not the case. The forum erupted into a cacophony of complaints about existing legislation, that R400,000 would not cover all potential impact study costs and serious concern if more endangered species were discovered. It was like walking into a 50% off sale at Stuttafords, but having shoppers moan that they still had to pay half if they wanted to buy clothing… it astounded me! Furthermore, Agri WesKaap asked for community cooperation in mapping all potential areas of agricultural expansion. A comment came from the floor, “We’re Afrikaans, we don’t work together.” I was shocked!

Thereafter, the forum continued to complain that national government did not care about commercial farmers. I can understand this allegation, considering the hostile rhetoric that has come from radical corners within the ruling party, however this was Agri WesKaap and they were attempting to help. How can communities expect government to assist them, if they actively admit they don’t even work together within their communities? Would anyone want to assist an industry hell-bent on undermining one another or being the lone-ranger in a sector that should be collaborating for collective success? Who wants to help communities who look gift horses in the mouth?

Small communities comprising mostly of family-run farms are the first to moan that money is tight, that market conditions are dismal, that overheads are stifling and that government fails to assist them. So, why are economies of scale being ignored by these wine communities? Why in an effort to compete, is there not more cooperation amongst winery cooperatives, farmers and wine region marketing organisations? Are we not missing out on a golden opportunity? I simply refuse to believe it is Afrikaans culture to live with a laager mentality where it’s every man for himself and stuff the neighbour; if he does better than thou, I smite thee. I refuse to believe this is intrinsic to anyone’s culture; as a De Wet I refuse to accept it’s part of ours.

Is this lack of cooperation not simply a psychological byproduct of being somewhat unsuccessful in recent years? Do the difficult trading conditions for wine farmers not a survivalist mentality make, where the collective looks disdainfully upon successes of the few? Where every man tries to be in it for himself, because the less you have, the more you instinctively protect the little you do have?

I’m hoping this is indeed the case. It is neither healthy for the industry nor the region if an agri-business fraternity is out to undermine and consume itself. I’m not suggesting an OPEC of viticulture. Monopolies and cartels are never good for the consumer, however wine farmers going bankrupt is not good for the consumer either. It would curb customer choice and market diversity, it would wipe out wealth and therefore, place strain on job-creation and the provincial economy. We definitely need more wine industry cooperation, not to the level of vine ‘cartelification,’ but at least to a level where the industry is attempting to protect the engines of grape production.

How can we do this? Well, that is the subject of an agricultural-economy thesis and I would end up not writing a blog, but a book. For goodness sake, if we’re given a freebie from government, let’s accept it and use it to the advantage of the valley’s farmers. Additionally, it is about time those in the valley begin looking at internal solutions for external pressures. We may not be able to control the market, control electricity and petrol price-pressures, control restrictive legislation and low global wine-prices; we can control the way we approach it. From where I’m standing, it seems much more beneficial to stand together as a united interest group, than to be competing not only with the world, but also with our neighbours.

Global Warming Wine Warning

Molenaars River – Slanghoek Peak and Slanghoek Needle with snow, seems to be diminishing each year.

Perhaps I should have written this is summer. It becomes almost impossible to punt a climate change agenda when most people are pining for the sunny days of braais and pools to return. However, I chose winter for one reason: we lose it, we lose the crop and you lose your wine.  Winter is arguably our most critical season as it provides the majority of wine-growing regions worldwide with that one thing nothing can live without, water.

Grapes are a Mediterranean crop, this means it thrives best in a Mediterranean Climate, characterised by balmy, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Arguably, the Mediterranean Climate is the most pleasant climate-type worldwide; being neither too cold, nor too warm, being neither too humid, nor too arid, neither frost-prone or snowy. It is situated within the climate sweet spot between the subtropics and the cooler temperate latitudes, between hot deserts and wetter maritime climates. This places these areas at greatest risk due to climate change. Laying in such a precarious sweet spotmeans that any minor global temperature increase can cause the sweet spot to move poleward, leaving that area arid, hot and starved of vital winter precipitation.

It is something that worries innumerable wine producers. We are the first to notice minor changes to weather patterns. A city-dweller’s livelihood is not directly related to what the troposphere is doing, so it’s understandable that many are not aware of these changes. Trust us, they’re happening and they’re worrisome indeed.  The canary in the coal mine is mountain snowfall and it is drastically deceasing year-on-year.

Many people are excited by the prospect of warm winter days.We are not, by any means, pleased by it. Yes, we enjoy breaks in the rain and cold, same as anyone, but when it carries on for weeks, our level of anxiety rises precipitously. Urbanites may chastise the weather every time it bestows its winter best on the Cape, but remember where your water, food and drink comes from. Without those July tempests, your grocery bill will skyrocket and taps in the summer will run dry.

What would climate change do to the local wine industry? First and foremost, summer drought reaches critical levels, thereby affecting the ability to irrigate the vines, reducing yields, causing intolerable stress to the vineyards and causing significant reduction in crop-yields. Secondly, winters become warmer, negatively impacting the ability of the vines to enter their period of dormancy. This reduces the next season’s yield and makes for an unsustainable annual growth cycle. Already, producers are struggling to get vines pruned before budding begins. Premature budding results in heightened crop damage risk, as early-Spring storm and wind events damage the delicate shoots. Thirdly, summers simply become too hot. This exacerbates evaporative losses worsening drought conditions and intensified heat-waves literally turn plump, flavourful grape berries to raisins, directly on the vines.

This all means the consumer pays more for less. Overstressed vines do not produce quality fruit which means a lower quality product in the bottle. Successive lower crop-yields and failed harvests mean one of two things: producers either go bust, or wine prices skyrocket.

All these eventualities are not yet reality, but if trends continue unabated, it will come to fruition. So what can we do? Firstly, be thankful for those irritating rainy winter days, we don’t know how long they will last. Secondly, do what you can to reduce your carbon-footprint, either through driving more efficient vehicles, using public-transit where possible, conserving energy and recycling. Thirdly, buy sustainable products; either FairTrade, IPW or Biodiversity & Wine Initiative accredited wines.

We cannot curtail climate change alone and neither can you, however, if we all do a little, we have a massive collective impact. Help us to continue to farm so you can continue to get great wines at great prices: be a buddy to the Earth.