These days, the dynamic Robertson Winery boasts having a diverse portfolio of products with rapidly climbing sales that places it among the country’s largest wine cellars. At the top end of that portfolio is the Constitution Road range, whose name derives from the winery’s prominent address in this Breede River Valley town.
BUT the name Constitution Road has now acquired new significance in the sense that it is the name of a groundbreaking Land Reform and Black Economic Empowerment Project that involves no less than 183 women farm workers.
No wonder, there was a great sense of pride and elation during a recent ceremony where the farm Klipdrift on the outskirts of the town was officially handed over to the new partnership.
The project’s significance was acknowledged by the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development, whose national Minister, Mr Gugile Nkwinti, was present as guest of honour.
It was thanks to funding obtained through the Department of Land Affairs that the 183 women farm workers acquired a majority share in the company Constitution Road Wine Growers (Pty) Ltd, which owns the farm Klipdrift – a member farm of Robertson Co-operative Winery Ltd.
The farm will in future be a partnership between Robertson Winery and three worker trusts which give the 183 women farm workers a 66% stake in the business.
The worker-shareholders in Constitution Road Wine Growers (Pty) Ltd are represented by the Le Chasseur Workers’ Trust (21%), the Robertson East Workers Trust (26%), and the Robertson West Workers Trust (19%) along with Robertson Co-operative Winery Ltd (34%).
Klipdrift is a commercial farm which currently cultivates some 30 hectares of wine grapes and 16 hectares of apricots. As a member farm of Robertson Winery Klipdrift will deliver its grapes to the Winery. The apricots are sold to the Rhodes Fruit Group.
Some of the highlights achieved during the first year of this Land Reform and BEE Project include:
- Delivering its first apricot harvest of 120 tons to RFF (Rhodes Fruit Group) during December 2008.
- Delivering the first wine grape harvest of excellent quality to Roberson Co-operative Winery Ltd during February and March 2009 (307 tons).
- Upgrading the four labourers’ houses on Klipdrift to the value of R200 000 with a financial grant from Robertson Winery.
- Establishment of 7 hectares of apricots with funding obtained through Rhodes Fruit Group.
- Technical training for 56 of the women labourers who are beneficiaries in the trusts, with support from Winetech and the Vineyard Academy.
Constitution Road Wine Growers aims to further develop Klipdrift farm to finally grow about 70 hectares of wine grapes and 20 hectares of stone fruit.
Minister Mr Nkwinti said that this project was a “relationship based on business and equality” and it was important that the participants understood what it was all about; something not always the case in BEE projects.
“It’s a matter of co-ownership and co-management, with skills transfer as an important component.” The workers must learn to understand not to think only in terms of cash, but also assets for long-term benefit and security.
“We need more models like this one. At the end of the day partnerships will count. Changing South Africa takes pain and courage like this.”
The chairperson of Robertson’s board of directors, Mr Johannes van Zyl, said, “From a humble start in 1941 Robertson is today a modern cellar that crushes 31 000 tons of grapes – a producer of fine wines, with its own bottling and packaging plant and first-class national and international distribution.
“The decision a few years ago to buy the Klipdrift farm for land reform was a brave, but good one. I am convinced that the commercial farmers are positive about land reform and will assist beginner farmers wherever they can.
“The biggest problem in wine farming, however, is cost. To plant one hectare of vines costs about R100 000 and a return on investment takes time. Therefore to be sustainable there must be good management and a long-term market for the produce and access to the latest technology. As a member of Robertson Co-op, Klipdrift has it all.
“But today it’s not about land, water and money, it’s about people, the women, the new shareholders.
“For the first time in their lives they will have a share in a commercial farm and I am proud that the members and management of Robertson Co-op were able to achieve this.”
Board members of Constitution Road, Martha Fielies, Rachel November and Elizabeth George, with Minister Nkwinti (back), and Gertrude Schroeder of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and Bowen Botha, MD of Robertson Winery.