In October 1694, the Huguenot refugee Jacques de Villiers, also known as Jacob, received land situated close to the mountains, in the southeastern part of the Franschhoek Valley. However, Jacob farmed for several years before he finally received the title deeds in 1712. He called his farm La Bri, which may have been derived from the French word, l’abri, meaning “shelter”.
La Bri is approximately 24 hectares, with 13.5 hectares under vines and 17 people employed by the estate. According to Irene de Fleuriot, general manager and head winemaker, one of the exceptional features of La Bri is that the people who work here do not simply leave the service of the estate.
Nkosana Dube, a regular participant since 2017 in the Cellar Assistants Programme, has been employed in the La Bri cellar for the past seven years. Nkosana, an extrovert with a huge smile, is known as Dube amongst his colleagues and all who know him well. Originally from Kimberley, he had a close association with the Western Cape and the wine industry since childhood. In 1999 he was employed as a temporary worker at a well-known cellar in the Franschhoek Valley, but he was soon promoted to a permanent position in the tasting room. During his time in the tasting room, he completed some of the Cape Wine Academy courses, but his heart was still in the cellar, as he has a keen interest in the winemaking processes. Dube’s dream of being able to work in a cellar again came true when he was employed in 2017 as a cellar assistant at La Bri. Since then, Dube has completed all of the Wine Training SA SKOP courses and is currently enrolled in the NQF 3 learnership in winemaking.
According to Dube, there was a time many years ago when he was not interested in increasing his knowledge, as he doubted himself and he was afraid of failure. However, many people believed in Dube and encouraged him, which made a huge difference in changing his mindset. It is not unique to experience a fear of failure and many cellar assistants will confirm that they have a fear of the unknown; a fear of failure and that lack of self-confidence is a constant struggle for them. The success of many cellar assistants can certainly be attributed to the mentors who believed in their potential and constantly encouraged them to aim for and successfully achieve their goals.
La Bri has a unique approach to addressing the challenges experienced in knowledge transfer. According to Irene, once employees have completed all available training, the estate aims to find new ways to transfer knowledge successfully. The lack of available training in cellar assistants’ mother tongue remains a serious problem because, as cellar assistants in the industry can attest to, this often leads to a lack of self-confidence and increases fear.
La Bri approaches the development of potential leaders in a sensitive manner, believing that there should be empathy and an understanding of the unique circumstances of each person employed by the estate. However, according to Irene, it is also necessary to maintain a sense of humour to successfully manage situations.
Another exceptional feature of the estate is that the La Bri management encourages employees to take responsibility for their choices. For example, the tasting room team consists of strong individuals, with no senior person in charge and with everyone on the same level. Interviews with temporary workers are conducted by the tasting room staff and appointments are decided upon as a team. In the vineyard, close cooperation exists between the vineyard workers and management, especially with the hiring of new workers. This approach can be seen as an encouragement by management for employees to take responsibility for their decisions.
According to Irene, successful knowledge transfer has an enormous effect on cellar assistants’ self-esteem, as it is inevitable that their self-confidence will increase in the process as they begin to believe in themselves. It is also true that the individual must constantly be encouraged to be able to reach his or her full potential. The role of a mentor who encourages and supports plays an important role for cellar assistants to achieve their goals successfully.
According to Dube, Irene acts as a mentor to everyone on the estate and her encouragement and involvement make a huge difference. There is a continuous transfer of knowledge in the cellar and Glen Isaacs, one of the winemakers, explains complex aspects to the cellar team in basic terms. The informal approach that La Bri follows in terms of knowledge transfer, plus the joint mentorship of Irene and Glen bears fruit and is certainly successful in developing the La Bri employees to reach their full potential.