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!

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