A brand-new, 100% black-owned and managed wine producer is being born. The culmination of a 13–year–long development project will see the Elethu farm in Bonnievale shake off its training wheels and become a fully-fledged high value wine producer with its own label.
The farm, located in Gelukshoop Road near Bonnievale in the Western Cape, started in 2007 with a municipal land transaction. It is now 100% black owned, with the beneficiaries set to take over full management control next month.
Elethu benefits the 30 members of the Bonnievale Workers Empowerment Trust which are all current employees of Bonnievale Wine Group. The farming enterprise employs four farm workers.
The first wine to be marketed under Elethu’s own label is already in the tanks under stewardship of winemaker Edwin Mathambo. It is set to be released in 2022.
Born from an employee empowerment project
The idea for the farm came about when the employers, management and producers of Bonnievale Wine Group came together to start a project that would benefit the families of the employees of the group.
When the Langeberg municipality put out a tender on some municipal land, the BWET went for the opportunity wholeheartedly. After a long application process the trust was awarded the farm in 2007.
“When we first received the farm in 2007 it was totally neglected. There was no equipment or vineyards,” said Kristin Le Roux, production assistant, beneficiary and trustee of the BWET.
They planted the first ten hectares of vineyards in 2011 and have since added another six hectares. They currently grow cabernet sauvignon, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, colombar and nouvelle grapes. They are looking to add another eight hectares of vineyards in the near future and they will grow cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay.
In the past couple of years, the farm was managed on a 50-50 basis by the beneficiaries and commercial farmer Schalk Wentzel, the owner of nearby Tereva farm. Wentzel acted as a mentor for the farming business.
From the end of May 2020, the beneficiaries of the BWET will assume full responsibility for managing the farm. The management of the Bonnievale Wine Group will be available as mentors.
“Our goal is to empower our beneficiaries with the necessary production and business skills to manage and grow a sustainable business. The beneficiaries, with the mentorship of Bonnievale Wine Group, is striving to establish a successful farming project and a success story in the industry that we can be proud of,” says Le Roux.
The fact that the beneficiaries own the land is a huge part of the success behind this project, says Phil Bowes, manager of enterprise development at wine producers’ industry body Vinpro.
“Owing to the fact that the owners have been gainfully employed while establishing their business, there have been no short-term decisions at the expense of long-term profits. (There was) little pressure (for them) to earn a living from the start-up,” he says.
Bowes says Bonnievale Wines is an able off-taker who provides valuable inputs into cultivar selection, a matter which is exceptionally important for any long-term perennial crop.
Technical assistance has been available through cellar structure, which lessens the risk of failure on viticultural grounds, he says.
“We commend the role of the local municipality in ensuring that the land is granted to the owners of Elethu. Furthermore, we welcome the members of Elethu to the industry with open arms and trust that other wine cellars will pursue (similar) processes,” Bowes concludes.