Reporting On The Year That Was

DTW-Xmas

The wine industry is a fickle beast, never particularly stable, seldom predictable, always at the whims of the weather gods and often, victim of seismic shifts in fashion, political power-plays and exchange rates. Despite this, with our amazing team, from the hands that tend the soil, to those running from office to client, Du Toitskloof has managed to have a mostly positive 2013 and is looking forward to a promising new year.

We were fortunate to have had a decent harvest in early-2013. This is the cornerstone of our entire year. A failed harvest can make the following 12-months, waiting for the next income injection, an unpleasant experience indeed. Unlike most industries, one event predetermines the upcoming 12-months.

We have been blessed with a market that has been loyal to our brand. This enables us to bottle our wines in early-Autumn with confidence, knowing that most, if not all, of our cultivars will be sold-out by the time bottling takes place post-harvest in 2014.

Autumn came early, then late. Our rains arrived on schedule around Easter, but then stopped. We became quite concerned when some new vines attempted to bud in late-May. Heat suddenly surged in the late season and leaf-colouring was erratic. Luckily though, the seasons got back on track and in the last week of May, winter begun in earnest. Despite a lengthy hiatus of warmth in July, the remainder of our rainy season from August till late-September was cold and very wet.

We had two significant snow events in August and September. People outside the industry do not often realise how important winter is to us. Significant mountain snow means significant rest for the vines and we all know that great sleep makes for energetic wakefulness; this bodes well for the growing season beyond. Spring came very late, but rapidly; this has reflected in our later-than-normal season. Our Jacaranda’s only concluded flowering in mid-December – in Gauteng, it’s over by early-November.

Spring not only saw new growth on the vines. It saw the second annual Cape Cuisine Cook-off with Muratie Estate. A successful event that grows from year-to-year, bringing two cellars and the who’s who of the culinary arts together in the Cape Winelands. This year’s theme was Cape-Malay cuisine. We look forward to the fresh, new, endemic ideas for the 2014 event to be held at our cellar once more.

Soon thereafter, we announced the inaugural Wine Writer of the Year Award, in conjunction with Standard Bank. It was to have an esteemed panel of judges and outstanding auditing standards, ensuring objectivity and absolute credibility. We wanted to become synonymous with supporting free-thought and fresh ideas in the wine industry, becoming an incubator for our industry’s creative talent.

The culinary developments with our brand didn’t just stop with the Cape Cuisine Cook-off. In late-Spring, the announcement of the year came, Du Toitskloof Wines would become the official sponsor of South Africa’s premier Afrikaans-language cooking competition, Kokkedoor. This would catapult the brand into more Southern African homes than ever before.

To complement this, we needed to think bigger when it came to distribution. If we were to be distributed digitally over satellite throughout DStv’s footprint, to complement this, we needed our bottles to be distributed far-and-wide, from Kalahari to coast. The partnership between Namaqua Distribution and ourselves was born, taking our wines to more corners of the sub-continent than ever before.

In late-November, the first annual Wine Writer of the Year Award went to Tim James. Despite having few entries, the famous names in this arena were represented. Standard Bank recommitted themselves to 2014. It’s certain, given the credibility earned, that the competition will continue to grow and new names will begin to enter in the coming years.

We had quite a scare in November, when a vicious Black Southeaster combined with a cut-off-low to bring the Western Cape some of the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in November. Some regions of our province, like Somerset West, experienced significant damage and some loss of life was even recorded. We were fortunate to come out relatively unscathed, except for some sporadic damage near rivers draining mountains to the south-west. Our harvest seems to have weathered the storm mostly unscathed.

Now as 2013 draws to a close, the summer heats up and the grapes ripen, our 2014 harvest is looking pretty good, despite the ups and downs. Plus, with our new partnerships and sponsorship deals, the new year is looking bright and hopefully, prosperous. We hope we can pass this prosperity on to our producers, our staff and our FairTrade empowerment project, as well as you, by continuing to provide exemplary wines at approachable prices.

Du Toitskloof wishes you and yours a joyous holiday season and a fun-filled new year; may 2014’s challenges bear fruit and may you look back on this coming year in late-2014 with fondness. We look forward to being in your homes’ and at your special occasions’ in 2014 and in many years to come. 

Madiba’s Lessons For Business

The children were always close to Madiba's heart. We try to perpetuate this love - showing it through the Fairhills learner nutrition programme, amongst others.

The children were always close to Madiba’s heart. We try to perpetuate this love – showing it through the Fairhills learner nutrition programme, amongst others.

The father of modern South Africa passed away peacefully on the 5th of December at 20:40 SAST. This marked the end of an era for our nation, an era of transformation, reconciliation and selfless leadership lead by the moral compass of our greatest son. This great southern nation has just concluded ten days of mourning in what has been, an emotional roller-coaster for most. Obviously, he too is only mortal, and all mortals have their detractors. Minority negativity aside, no man has done more to unite differing opinion, ethnicities, ideologies and religions than Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Does this mean South Africa’s work is over? No, furthest from it. Mandela merely built a multi-racial and democratic foundation on which the hopes and dreams of all South Africans must be built. He could never have fixed decades of legislated segregation and centuries of ethnic bigotry in his five year presidency and near twenty-four years of post-imprisonment. His work is up to us now; the torch of his legacy has been passed to the fifty-million children of the south.

South African businesses have their role to play. Madiba has also taught the private-sector valuable lessons about becoming part of positive change. It has been said by some that he was a socialist, even a communist, at heart. There is truth in this. However, Mandela was foremost a pragmatist, a learned man and a listener; he realised the world had changed, he realised all sectors were needed to build a nation, non-governmental, governmental and private. Rather than being a rigid idealist, he adapted his vision to a changing world, just as he expected far-Right-and-Left South Africans to adapt theirs. Instead of nationalising every strategic industry, he chose to teach industry something more valuable.

Ubuntu: Encompassing all noble human virtues, I am me because of you. So it must be with business in South Africa. Business will always need to pursue a profit, for without profit, small businesses, entrepreneurs and corporations cease to exist. Without it, job-creation will unsustainably fall completely upon the shoulders of the State and entrepreneurship and private-innovation will perish. However, we must do so responsibly, sustainably and inclusively. We must do so in the spirit of Ubuntu, where no cog within the machine of humanity and indeed, business, can exist without the other; the hands that pick, the hands that transport, the hands that vinify, the hands that market and those that manage; neither can work if the other does not.

With our troubled past, the need for corporate social responsibility in no stronger than in South Africa. Madiba had influenced our company, as we awoke early to the needs of our community. Thus, we did not hesitate to join Origin Wines in starting our FairTrade, Fairhills project. He opened our eyes to our responsibility as not only being to our clientèle, but also to our people.

We pledge as a company to live his ideals, we promise to perpetuate his legacy in our own small way. We are all responsible: labour, business, individuals, government, irrespective of dark or light complexion. It may sound opportunistic for a company to hop on the Mabida bandwagon. However, his call for change, his call for compassion and his call for Pan-African-betterment knew no bounds. We will continue to do what we can to fulfil his dreams. For his dreams weren’t his own, they were the dreams of a nation.

By Andres de Wet

Building Trust in Critical Thought

Johan de Wet (DuToitskloof Wines chairperson) left with (2013 winner) Tim James right.

Johan de Wet (DuToitskloof Wines chairperson) left with (2013 winner) Tim James right.

On the 22nd of November, Du Toitskloof Wines and Standard Bank awarded the first annual Wine Writer of the Year Award to Tim James. A prize of R30,000 was given for his critical piece on the impacts of climate change on the South African wine industry. The actual article is still under embargo, for the exclusivity of publishing houses.

Wine writers do not have it particularly easy. Their reputation as leaders of critical thought may proceed them, but the payment for the value they add is not always forthcoming. The South African wine industry is notoriously small. This can complicate the environment for those who wish to point out inconsistencies in the industry, who wish to be critical of cellars or appellations, or those who wish to push the envelope of free thought.

When one believes one’s work is not adjudicated without bias, is can be disheartening. There is nothing greater that shackles the creative-mind more, than the notion that independent opinion is stifled and that free thought goes uncelebrated. However, this slight negativity has been turned on its head by the ironclad vetting, strict auditing and administrative integrity of the Du Toitskloof Wines and Standard Bank Wine Writer of the Year Awards.

The awe was palpable at the awards evening, held on the 22nd of November at Terra Mare in Paarl. There was a relieved disbelief that Du Toitskloof Wines and Standard Bank, the convener and headline sponsor, had no knowledge of who the entrants were, until that night; that names were only given by the independent auditors PriceWaterhouseCoopers, to the PR agency, for invitational purposes only. Entrants were astounded by the organiser’s lack of inside information.

This is how it should be done. This allows that free thought and independent opinion to be just that, free and independent. The fervor with which PriceWaterhouseCoopers kept any details under lock-and-key rendered undue influence impossible. 

It is also important to note, that the judging panel was academic-heavy. If the judging is seen as being populated by industry insiders, credibility goes a begging. However, when you have the esteemed Dr. Gawie Botma, chair of the Stellenbosch Department of Journalism, convening a panel of academics and writers, like Erns Grundling, Maureen Joubert and Prof. Ian Glen, the quality of interpretation of opinion is cemented. Despite the reported high-quality of each entrant, the judging panel was unanimous in its decision of the 2013 winner, highlighting the exemplary nature of Tim James’ writing.

It came to light that only five entrants were received; albeit a small step forward, a cursory glance around the venue would have you believe that all the top wine writers were present and this was indeed the case. All the biggest names entered. It is acknowledged however, that new blood is necessary, for new blood is to the body as new thought is to critical opinion.

The value of translating scientific jargon into layman’s terms is unquantifiable. The research, effort and subsequent simplification of Climate Change terminology is invaluable, as it is now within easy reach of the industry and those interested in it. The publication possibilities and knowledge gained, by writing about such a critical issue, cannot be underestimated.

It is also hoped, the competition will gain traction and fame as the years go by, transforming the notion that the-other-side-of-the-mountain is ‘that lesser part of the Winelands,’ to being ‘a region synonymous with excellence, global-reach and innovative ideas.’

One cannot expect the wine writing fraternity to fall in love with another competition overnight. Trust and respect is earned. We hope our respectful actions will embolden that trust. It is clear for us and for Standard Bank that 2013 was just the beginning for Wine Writer of the Year. The affections from those who entered gave us a similar indication of long-term commitment. That 2014 will see a greater influx as credibility of the process is made known.

We raise a glass of Brut to the custodians of free thought. We raise this glass to those who had initial confidence in us. We raise the glass to those who will follow suit in 2014. As long as we are the purveyors of value-for-money wines, we will be the purveyors of progress and excellence in a notoriously difficult industry, for without critical self-reflection, we cannot hope to grow and improve. 

By Andres de Wet