Among the longstanding South African brands now in wine shops are an increasing number of ‘empowerment’ labels. Over the past twenty years farm workers have been getting involved in the wine business.
The government has a policy called Black Economic Empowerment to encourage the ‘previously disadvantaged’ gain a financial stake in their work.
Some wine farms have set up a separate wine business in which their workers hold shares. One such farm is Bellevue Estate in the Stellenbosch region, which started a company with eighty of their workers to create and market wines under the name Sizanani, a Xhosa word meaning helping each other.
Sizanani has had export success including a contract to supply own label wines for Morrisons supermarket chain in the UK.
Grapes come from the farm where vines a grown and harvested by their workers and winemaking is under the supervision of Bellevue’s cellar-manager while Sizanani members learn the various skills that go into running their own business. At the start, while they found their feet, company ownership was shared 40/60 between the workers and the winery, but now Sizanani is one-hundred percent owned by the farm workers of Bellevue Estate.
This month in London I met Randall Peceur. I’d encountered Randall some years ago in Bellevue winery when he worked in their tasting room pouring wine for visitors. Now he is the managing director of Sizanani.
Randall told me “The main focus of the company is the upliftment of the farm workers. Before they would work all day in the vineyards and winery but had no knowledge of what their future would hold for them. Now with this project they have a tangible link to their future and more importantly in the future of their children. We strongly believe that if we can empower them and uplift them and give them something to live for, they will become stronger, be homeowners and heads of households and be more caring.”
“The idea of Sizanani is to get real quality wines out into the market at a affordable price and attract younger people who don’t drink wine. Wine brings people together, you start off as strangers and before you know it you’d like family; that’s what wine does.”
Randall was in London to show Sizanani wines at the bi-annual Cape Wine Europe trade fair. “We want to see Sizanani wines on your table and while you enjoy our wines you will be helping us", he says.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.