It’s time to change the tone in which the wine industry is presented.
Start by influencing your own surroundings and community.

This week I met a journalist who was recently tasked with writing about the business of the wine industry for one of the national newspapers, without having any real experience or exposure to the world of wine. She contacted me to get a sense of the industry landscape and I thought it would make a good impression to meet at one of the many venues where the actual landscape is breathtaking.

But when you talk to a business-focussed outsider, you quickly realise that the trade of the drink of gods is perhaps not perceived to be as glorious as many of us would like to believe. The wine industry headlines seen by the average South African that week comprised fires, under-paid workers and shocking online comments by a racist fool who says that he works in the wine industry.

With that backdrop, not even the actual landscapes help much. It’s time to consciously change the industry tone – particularly in terms of the impressions made to the broader public. There is an overwhelming treasure chest of good stories that should drown out the bad wrap that the industry has endured.

The winner of this year’s 1659 medal of honour, Fairview’s Charles Back, is case in point. During his tenure, Fairview’s workers corps grew from 17 to more than 500. There is a strong focus on sustainably growing skills at Fairview. This has not only advanced the many individuals who have built a career at the farm, but the resulting commitment, productivity and innovation is still a driving force in this dynamic business.

When I asked Charles what worries him about the South African wine industry, he said that he rather focusses on the things that he can influence, instead of pondering those aspects that are beyond his control. With that approach he by no means discounted the importance of the messy state of global and local politics, but his focus has been on his direct surroundings and community. And through this his influence has expanded to benefit hundreds of families.

Successful entrepreneurs have never been known by negativity. They also determine their own destiny, instead of waiting for circumstances to change to their liking and then complaining if it doesn’t. Do these tendencies sound familiar?

Just before this magazine went to print, the Cape Wine Auction, sponsored by Nedbank Private Wealth, broke its own record by raising a staggering R22.3 million, which will be allocated to 22 beneficiaries who make a profound impact on education and the lives of children in the Cape Winelands. How’s that for influencing your direct surroundings!

These are the stories that the wine industry needs to be known by. The tone in which the industry is presented will also influence the way that consumers, government and investors perceive and respond to it. The consumer is more likely to buy another bottle, government should consider offering more support to it and investors are more likely to stem the tide of a shrinking industry.

And if you’re thinking that I’m suggesting that we take the ostrich head-in-the-soil approach by ignoring concerns and focusing only on niceties, think again. In fact, it’s high time that players in the wine industry take stronger actions against those responsible for the negative perception of the wine industry. This is indeed part of that sphere that we can and should influence.

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