In 1979 KWV’s extension service – the precursor of VinPro (SA): Consultation Service – began to function following a request from producers at a conference of wine farmers.

According to Dr E F Beukman, KWV’s chief planning executive who headed the service, the goal, right from the start, was to fulfil the needs of the producer. “However, the premise was always to advise and inform producers so that they may help themselves.”

The team of five extension officers complemented each other’s technical and viticultural expertise. Increasing demand for this service resulted in the original team of five being enlarged, so that a wider range of services could be offered. In the article about the past and future of Consultation Service, Francois Viljoen examines these expansions.

Ten years after founding the service, Dr Beukman could look back on the course that KWV’s Extension Service had taken and said: “The influence exerted by the team on the recommendation of cultivars, trellising, pruning practices, the establishment of young vines, the development of young vines, foliage control and other practices, (is) clearly visible in the various KWV districts.”

Dr Beukman, who has since retired but is still involved in KWV as a consultant, says it is clear today that the service succeeded in its goal. Where farmers once had to be convinced, there is now an obvious demand for it.

“Farmers no longer have to be convinced, the service no longer has to be ‘sold’ – through their cellars and as individual producers they recognise that the service is essential. Its credibility has been proven. One does not buy something in which you do not believe.”

Initially the team of extension officers was headed by Jan Booysen, still referred to as the father of the new-look Consultation Service.

“The service was conceived because of demand. The government did not have a good extension service,” he says. “Our main goal was to provide answers to the farmers’ viticultural questions.” Later on producers required the integration of financial implications with the technical information. Agricultural economists became involved and a more integrated technical/economic service was offered.

“The next step was closer collaboration with cellar management – we put the producers in touch with management,” he says.

Looking back at the achievements of the past 21 years, he says the service was successful, success which can be measured by the demand. “We certainly reached our goals. Today Consultation Service consists of a multi-disciplinary team. Strategic planning is offered for cellar management, the producer and the board of directors.”

According to Mr Booysen the service must and will continue, because there is no alternative.

One of the first extension officers was Hannes de Wet, who served farmers in the Robertson area as well as the Little Karoo and is today enjoying retirement in Robertson. “Those were early days in the industry and farmers were looking for answers,” he says. “They wanted to know which cultivars to plant and where; what the future of the industry was, and were keen to learn about marketing.”

Those days red cultivars were scarce in these regions and when new varieties were imported by Nietvoorbij, advice could be given about where to plant what. As better and virus free plant material also became available, farmers were able to obtain relevant information.

But it is when talking to the clients that one hears about the real success of Consultation Service. People such as Lourens Jonker, chairman of KWV’s board and owner of the Weltevrede Estate in Bonnievale, who was a client almost from the start and still uses viticultural as well as cellar consultation.

“I have told many farmers that we cannot afford to farm without this service,” he says. “With my son Philip, who is responsible for our vineyards, I firmly believe in this service. It enables you to stay abreast of the latest research and methods. Without it one may start lagging.”

Not only is he more than satisfied with the excellent service provided by his consultant, moreover he is convinced that he gets his money back over and again.

Danie de Wet, KWV director and owner of De Wetshof Estate, also talks about maintaining a good relationship with his consultant. “It enables me to motivate my people at a high level,” he says. “We are all exposed to the services provided.

“At my age you sometimes go around wearing blinkers, but through the service I can expose myself to experts who keep in touch with the latest developments. This means that my own business is evaluated on a regular basis. I don’t want to get stuck in a rut and I honestly cannot imagine that we should be farming without the input of Consultation Service.”

Nico Dippenaar, co-operative client from Rawsonville, says he makes use of all the services provided. The weather station project operates in conjunction with Consultation Service, as well as a disease prediction programme and the monitoring of irrigation and cultivar planting programmes.

“The quality of our wines has improved tremendously since we started making use of the service. Previously we supplied to the wholesale trade only, but now we have added direct sales. We also received good advice when we started planting red cultivars. And we are reaping the benefits: two of our red wines received silver awards at Veritas!”

At Nuy the wine maker, Wilhelm Linde, says that he has been using KWV’s Extension Service from the beginning, then changed over to the paid dispensation and has never regretted the cellar’s involvement with the service.

“The consultants are extremely important to us, from the vineyard to the cellar. We shall undoubtedly continue to pursue the relationship. We were also involved in the weather station project and are currently participating in the project for irrigation scheduling. Controlled irrigation is very important to us and with this service we can determine and control the amount of water in the soil. As far as I am concerned, Consultation Service is indispensible.”

Spatz Sperling of Delheim is another client of long standing. “As an attempt to make the most of your wine farming activities, it is crucially important,” he says. The service has assisted him with viticultural information, tastings and foliage management, inter alia.

“The basic idea is brilliant. It is a service which is entirely personalised, with one consultant who is intimately involved in your undertaking. The annual programme which is drawn up is extremely valuable and in the cellar your oenological practices are evaluated.”

“The consultant who serves us has taught me so much about viticulture,” says Carl Schultz, manager of Hartenberg Estate. “I have been using the service for the past six and a half years and work strictly according to the work programme that has been drawn up.”

This enables him to decide which cultivars to plant, which decisions to take with regard to irrigation, as well as all other aspects of viticulture. “My consultant plays an integral role on the farm and the service is indispensible. It is also valuable in the sense that he can inform me about trends and problems in my area before these become evident.”

The same faith in the recommendations and knowledge of consultants is expressed by Willem Joubert, manager of Ashton Wine Cellar. “Thanks to this service we are still learning day by day, even after 15 years, and our quality is constantly improving. It is a necessary service which has also convinced members that radical changes are essential.

“Farming is a business, but it requires expertise. We simply cannot cope without the expertise of Consultation Service. Furthermore, it is cheaper than producing inferior quality.”

Simonsig has been relying on the service of VinPro’s consultants for the past few years. According to Johan and Francois Malan, the experience gained by their personal consultant on a wide spectrum of wine farms offers a broader perspective on new developments.

“The inputs provided over a period of more than seven years have made a direct contribution to the establishment of our Sauvignon blanc as one of the constant achievers in our range.

“This has happened thanks to the identification of specific blocks, combined with the best foliage management practices, as advised by our consultant.

“We also taste the wines annually and adjust viticultural practices accordingly. We are proud of our relationship with VinPro and wish them all the best for the future.”

Jan Malan is the owner of and has interests in various wine farms – Volgesang, Kleine Salze inter alia. His extensive wine interests range from Stellenbosch and Wellington to Franschhoek and the Overberg. It is important to him to make use of a continuous service.

“Our consultant advises us in each region,” he says. “His experience of viticulture is wide-ranging and he has the ability to identify each region’s problems and opportunities. His knowledge of his field and the regions in which we are active is so extensive that we are able to keep up with the latest technology. Consultation Service certainly works for us.”

Kallie Brücker, estate manager of Groot Constantia, has the last concise word: “The service means a lot to us. Guidelines are recommended, we use them and improve our quality. We certainly do not want to go without Consultation Service.”

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