Lifelong dream becomes reality for Dawid Diederiks of Klein Môrewag

Klein Môrewag, a grape producing farm in the Swartland district of the Western Cape has been home to Dawid Diederiks for most of his life.  It is on this very farm that Dawid worked as a farm labourer for more than thirty years before his dream became reality and he was granted farming rights by the state in 2012.

At the same time, Perdeberg Wines was looking for a new grape supplier when their paths crossed with Klein Môrewag.  This was the start of a strategic partnership between the farm and the winery, with Perdeberg providing operational funds, mentorship and a long-term grape supply agreement to Klein Môrewag.  “The supply agreement enabled Perdeberg to issue Dawid shares in the company in line with his grape deliveries and he started attending shareholder- and producer meetings,” says Gerhard van der Watt, CEO of Perderberg.

Dawid cultivates popular varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc on the 321-hectare farm, which has its own dam for irrigation and housing for Dawid, the workers and their families.  “I am very proud that I am able to secure a future for my family and fellow workers on the farm,” says Dawid.

Always eager to learn, Dawid spend significant time with Perdeberg’s viticulture, production and finance teams who have been instrumental in advising and supporting him over the years. He now produces grapes to the full potential of the vineyards and is skilled in finance and business administration.

“Mentorship support for us is a team effort and to a large extent hands-on help in the field,” says Gerhard. “It’s also a continuous process that requires full involvement and commitment in order to achieve success.”

With the help of fellow farmers in the Swartland area, Dawid diversified the business by using a section of the farm for grazing.  The farmers also donated some of their calves so Dawid could establish his own herd of cattle.

“We’ve come to know Dawid as a humble, friendly person, but what we appreciate most is his commitment to help others,” says Gerhard.  “Dawid not only ensures the welfare of the farm workers by providing them with an income, housing, transport and after-school care facilities for the children, he also donated feed to the Karoo farmers during the devastating drought in that region.”

To honor Dawid’s journey from worker to owner, Perdeberg launched a wine label called The Ploughman, which is sold internationally and provides a financial benefit to Klein Môrewag.

Akkedisberg Boerdery, a small start to a growing enterprise

In a narrow valley of the Kleinrivier Mountains in the Overberg District is the Dreyer’s Family vineyards called Raka Wines. This is the southernmost mountain range in Africa and its slopes provide a variety of soil types ideally suited for vineyards. With breezes from Walker Bay and Agulhas, the Klein River wine district is cooler than the traditional wine growing areas of the Cape. It is here that a group of farm workers started growing their own vineyards.

The Dreyer Family is involved with different businesses across several sectors and have been staunch supporters of employee empowerment. In 2013, the Raka Empowerment Trust was formed for 20 of their farm workers. This led to the development of Akkedisberg Boerdery Pty Ltd, a farming entity which was allocated 20 hectares of land on a 30-year lease agreement from the Dreyer family.

They initially started with 4 hectares of vineyards in 2015, funded by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture (WCDoA) through the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP).  A further 3 hectares was funded with an interest-free loan from Raka Wines and over the years, Akkedisberg Boerdery expanded their vineyards to 16 hectares.

Significant financial assistance for production inputs was recently received from the SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit (SAWITU), ensuring the continued development of the farming project.

Like many similar farm worker empowerment initiatives, a big focus is skills development and mentorship.  This has been a slow process and a steep learning curve for the beneficiaries as the initial level of education needed to be raised first.

“A secondary aim of our employee development is to encourage beneficiaries to motivate their children to achieve qualifications that can be useful in developing Akkedisberg Boerdery further,” says Josef Dreyer, winemaker at Raka Wines and mentor to the group.

Two other factors stand out for this innovative empowerment initiative. The Dreyer Family has its commercial roots in fishing and the Trust owns shares in a fishing vessel, a clever way to diversify its revenue.  This entity paid out dividends, which is a huge encouragement for the beneficiaries of this developing enterprise.

Raka Wines has also committed to buy all the produce of the farm, although Akkedisberg Boerdery has the option to sell to any other buyer.

Future plans include producing their own wines sourced from their vineyards, but such plans have been put on hold as the industry still suffers from the repercussions of alcohol sales bans and the glut of wine in several key markets around the globe.

Elethu’s growth an inspiration of true empowerment

Elethu is a 62ha grape farm near Bonnievale in the Breede River Valley. Surrounded by rugged mountains, the valley is climatically diverse and known to be the largest fruit and wine producing valley in the Western Cape.

Elethu was awarded to the Bonnievale Workers Empowerment Trust by the Langeberg Municipality in 2007.  At the time, the farm was in need of development, but it has since been cultivated with 24.2 ha of vineyards, producing white and red grape varietals.  The farm is a producer member of the Bonnievale Wine Group (BWG).

“Making a success of a long-term perennial crop require meticulous planning from Elethu’s management, and seeing the farm produce high quality grapes and good yield over the years makes it very rewarding!”, says Kristin Johnson, Cellar and Production Assistant of BWG and responsible for Elethu’s farm administration. “Not only have we been able to develop the skills required to run a farm of this size, but we have also been able to pay dividends to the 39 beneficiaries of the Trust”.

Elethu, meaning “It is ours” in Xhosa, has 4 permanent employees and uses seasonal workers to farm the land.  The farm is owned by the Trust, which is 100% black empowered and consists of the 4 employees and 35 staff members who are gainfully employed by BWG.

“We could not have been successful without the partnerships that have shaped our journey along the way”, elaborates Johnson.  Besides the operational mentorship and financial support received from CEO John Barnardt and the management team of BWG, the staff at Elethu has been assisted by a commercial farmer and former mentor.

“Also key to our success has been the tremendous help received from the TU” explains Johnson. The South African Wine Industry Transformation Unit (colloquially known as the TU) progressively drives transformation in the wine industry. “We have made good use of the training and development opportunities the TU provided and received funding for essential infrastructure upgrades, which aided us with the further development of the farm”.

“The staff’s responsiveness to mentorship guidance and advice helped them grow the business and develop in their personal capacity,” says Sakkie Bosman, viticulturist at BWG and current mentor on the farm. “Everyone understands that farming is a 24 hour, 7 days a week business that requires dedication and commitment.”  He is very proud of the staff that is making such a huge success of Elethu.

“The Trust was formed to create a better future for ourselves in the agriculture sector”, says Johnson, “but first, we needed to build a sustainable enterprise and become more independent”.  Since mid-2020, Elethu has been running on its own steam with Johannes Fredericks as farm manager and the farm produced its first wine made by award-winning winemaker, Edwin Mathambo.  The wine is maturing in barrels and will be released in 2022.

“We are also very proud that we were able to produce our product with the necessary ethical and environmental compliance”, concludes Johnson “and trust that South African and global wine consumers will enjoy drinking our wine, as much as we have enjoyed producing it!”

De Goree, a sterling example of successful employee empowerment

Nestled between the striking mountain ranges of Langeberg and Riviersonderend and with the graceful Breede River running through it, is the Robertson Wine Valley. It is here that the Retief family, owners of Van Loveren Family Vineyards successfully concluded the historic Black Economic Empowerment land reform partnership with employees and pensioners back in 2004. The De Goree farm has since been awarded the National Agri BEE project of the Year in 2008 and has expanded its operation from 50 to 80 hectares wine grapes and pears.

We chatted to Phillip Retief, Managing Director of Van Loveren Family Vineyards.

What was the motivation behind this Employees Trust?

In the mid-2000’s Van Loveren was in a growing phase and the De Goree Farm was the first empowerment initiative we embarked upon. We are fortunate to have 3rd and 4th generation employees working alongside us, and we wanted to help them unlock opportunities that developed from South Africa’s unique history.

How many workers benefit from The De Goree Employees Trust?

At the moment 61 current and pensioned employees are beneficiaries.

What are the benefits for beneficiaries?

There are several levels that employees participate in. Three beneficiaries are Trustees and we found that exposing our employees to the full awareness of business realities has created a sense of pride in them and their loyalty has been further solidified. Several beneficiaries are in managerial positions.

The development of employees is a daily activity in the business. The Trustees have been trained in budget management and financial forecasting, farming practices, computer skills and management principles.

De Goree has been profitable since year one due to a long-term grape supply contract with Van Loveren Private Cellars. The grapes have also been used to create the Five’s Reserve wine range, of which the Trust owns 25%. Beneficiaries have thus received substantial dividends from the commercial growth of these businesses.

The Five’s Reserve Bursary Scheme has been specifically created to benefit the children of employees, some of which have been assisted with high school and college education.

 How do you keep the partnership healthy?

The Employees Trust owns 52% of the De Goree Farm while Van Loveren owns the remaining 48%. It is a joint-risk venture, and this understanding is part of the reason why it has been successful. Further, we make sure that decision-makers are accessible by having open dialogue in our regular meetings.

What are the key learnings from this partnership?

The risk of failure was significantly reduced due to the generous application of the expertise available. The Retief Family has successfully nurtured the relationship with employees for more than a decade, and with proper business planning it was inevitable that the venture would be successful.

Employees exposed to the intricacies of the business has blossomed, furthering the trust and confidence of all involved.

We have learnt that starting a Trust with a smaller number of beneficiaries is more efficient in developing empowerment projects and will be using this lesson in the future.

What does the future hold?

Managing the farm sustainably will ensure continued business success.  De Goree has recently acquired a liquor license to be able to supply retail stores directly in the foreseeable future.

Van Loveren is also involved in two other successful empowerment initiatives. Olyfberg is a Level 2 BEE olive business partnership between the Retief and Karaan Families and Middelburg Vineyards is a grape farm that also grows almonds and cherries with a 30% empowerment shareholding.

How has the SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit supported the De Goree Farm?

We received funding this year to replace 2 hectares of vineyards, which includes technical advice and mentorship support from Vinpro.  We are also exploring the option of training employees in life skills coaching, conflict handling and communication skills as part of SAWITU’s industry training plan.

Van Loveren Vineyards has received its Fairtrade accreditation in 2011 and has certainly upped the pace for transformation in our agriculture sector. We look forward to seeing what the “Four Cousins” will develop next!