Douglas Green Jnr, one of the legends of the South African wine industry and synonymous with one of the country’s leading brands, has passed away at the age of 89. He died on 10 November at his home in Somerset-West after a recent illness.
He was the son of Douglas Green who founded the eponymous wine company in Paarl in 1942 and built it into a household name for quality wines that exists to this day.
Douglas Jnr grew-up in a house immersed in wine and the wine culture. His father and his forebears were all involved with EK Green, also a wine company that started in 1842. When the depression came along in 1929 the family shareholders decided to disband the company for economic reasons, going their separate ways.
After dabbling in various other industries, including the tannery business, Mr Green’s father formed the Douglas Green company in Paarl.
“We were living in Newlands at the time and I was at school at Bishops,” he recalled during an interview last year. “My father would spend a lot of time in Paarl as it was war-time and petrol was rationed. When we were together at home there would always be a decanter of sherry on the table. My sister and I were encouraged to have a glass and wine was a part of my life from an early age.”
Mr Green’s mother was from the famous Boland De Villiers family who owned the Paarl Wine and Brandy Company.
Mr Green never considered any career outside the drinks industry “As a young boy I’d join my dad at the Douglas Green cellars and run about the barrels chasing rats and getting up to no good. But I liked the cellar smells, the talk of the workers, the sounds of rattling bottles. It stuck.”
Upon matriculating, young Douglas Green was sent to study winemaking and viticulture at Elsenburg Agriculture College in Stellenbosch, where Douglas senior had also studied. Because of his father’s close workings with the KWV, Douglas Jnr was given the opportunity to take up and apprenticeship at this renowned and internationally acclaimed wine and spirits company.
Here Mr Green found himself being mentored by the legendary Charlie Niehaus, KWV’s wine and sherry supremo and today recognised as one of the industry’s true pioneers.
With his apprenticeship over, the second Douglas Green thus joined the eponymous wine company in Paarl. “My father told me: ‘So, now you know how to make wine. Now you can learn how to sell it.’”
So after opening the doors to Douglas Green at 07:00 each day, the young Douglas would drive from Paarl to Cape Town visiting hotels, bottle-stores and restaurants to market and sell the wines bearing the name Douglas Green.
“Douglas Green bore my father’s name, but also represented what he wanted people to experience in the wines,” says Mr Green.
“We had close relationships with grape growers and winemakers around the Cape and once their wines were delivered to Douglas Green, we would blend them into various brands. Quality and consistency were his aims, wanting the wine-buyer to simply enjoy a bottle of Douglas Green so much that they’d buy another the next day. Me and my father were not keen on meetings and office-talk – we liked to be among the barrels overseeing the bottles, on the bottling-line checking that everything was running smoothly, talking to the farmers in the vineyards.”
It was about quality above everything – and packaging. “We were always serious about packaging and brands.”
Wine not sold in Paarl was trucked to Cape Town. “Which was not always easy as trucks were hard to come by for renting, and for a long time I’d drive the consignment through in a Chrysler Airflow from which I had the seats removed,” he recalls.
Every day it was through to take orders and make deliveries: Simons Town, Sea Point, Salt River, Bellville and District Six. And once a week up the Garden Route as far as Plettenberg Bay.
In 1956 Dougie married Ena van Aarde with whom he had three children. They were married for 61 years until her passing.
Besides working with his father at Douglas Green, Mr Green also worked with the legendary Anton Rupert, owner of Distillers Corporation as well as for Scotch whisky producer William Grant. This took him and his family to Johannesburg from where for he oversaw distribution of Grant’s Whisky in Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, places he travelled to on business often and made many friends – especially through a mutual love of rugby. During his days as representative for Grant’s whisky Mr Green was known as the consummate liquor businessmen, combining business and marketing skills with those of entertaining and hospitality.
According to Jacques Roux, wine marketing director for DGB who own the Douglas Green brand, the passing of Douglas Green sees the closing of an illustrious chapter in the South African wine history. “Oom Dougie as we called him, was the consummate gentleman,” says Roux. “He was a very handsome man and as a kid, I thought he was that cowboy in the movies, the guy called Cary Grant.
“He spoke immaculate English and when he spoke Afrikaans it was the slow, very charming, calculated way the English speaking Capetonians spoke Afrikaans. A great sportsman and sports-lover, Oom Dougie was a Province supporter to the core. He was a golfer of note and was Captain of the Paarl Golf Club for many years.”
Roux says Oom Dougie was a fine taster and had an exceptional knowledge of the international whisky business. “Of course he also loved wine and recently over a lunch with Duimpie Bayly and Dave Hughes and a glass of Chenin Blanc, he told us how he would coach the waiters at the old Stellenbosh Hotel, ‘Tollies’ to serve wine at the right temperature. The whole DGB team is immensely sad of his death and our hearts go out to his children and their families in these difficult times.”
Tim Hutchinson, CEO of DGB, says: “Dougie was a legend in the South African Liquor Industry, and we are indebted to him for his on-going support as a director of Douglas Green (Pty) Ltd as he had a real passion for the welfare and performance of the brand bearing his father’s name. It is the end of an era as he was so knowledgeable about the early days of the South African wine and brandy industry and I am pleased that DGB has recorded a lot of his memories of the early days with his father’s business in Paarl which is an integral part of our history.”
Douglas green is survived by his children Adrienne , Anthony and Robbin.
A memorial service will be held on Tuesday the 26th of November at the Pniel Congregational Church in Pniel and thereafter refreshments at Boschendal, The Nicolas.