Growing up in Wellington in the Western Cape, viticulturist Ruth Faro had always wanted to be a social worker. She tried following her dreams in 2011, but missed the college application deadline. Three years later, she found her career careening in a totally different direction and found her passion in viticulture.
“I really had a passion to go into something like social work [but] I actually applied a bit late [at] Huguenot College. [I applied] for their four-year course. So, in that time, I did a course through Unisa called ‘community development’, just to assess if I really want to go in the social work [direction].”
Faro completed her Unisa course and ended up working as a facilitator at a nearby company. Her role was to help peer educators with their programmes at different schools.
After her stint as a facilitator ended, she found herself unemployed.
“In 2013, a friend of mine told me there was an advert in the newspaper about a place in Stellenbosch called the Pinotage Youth Development Academy. It’s an academy that helps disadvantaged students to get [work] within the wine industry. So, I applied in 2013 and in May 2014, I got accepted. It was a year-long course, and what they did is [educate us] on the whole sector within the wine industry.”
It was during her time at the academy that Faro found her true passion. The course covered topics from viticulture, to wine cellars, to tasting rooms. Faro’s natural affinity for being outdoors drew her to viticulture straight away.
“When the lecturer was busy teaching us about the soil and he was talking about the plants, and about how you actually get grapes from a vine that’s standing there, [I needed] to know more. I’m a nature person. I like outdoors so I can’t be in a tasting room for seven days a week.”
Faro says she appreciates working in cellars because that is where the wine making actually takes place, but by her very nature, viticulture is her primary interest.
“In the vineyards, you [get] to see how everything looks and you have to do different [things]. When you plant the root stock, [you see] how will it develop and how that young vine is going to have to bear [fruit] for 15 years. So, that is actually where my passion is.”
Journey into viticulture
After finishing her course with the Pinotage Youth Development Academy in 2015, Faro spent some time working on farms on weekends. As part of her course, she did her pruning practical at Bosman Adama and her cellar practical at popular wine brand KWV.
While doing her pruning course, she decided to apply for an internship at the company.
“That is actually where it all started. I just wanted to get a bit more exposure to [viticulture]. They informed me that my learnership has been approved and they gave me a one-year internship at a time. So, I worked in different departments in the Bosman company.”
Faro’s internship was followed by another six month stint as a contract worker before she was permanently hired in 2018 as a technical assistant in the viticulture team. “I assisted with different [things] like admin and monitoring the vines. In 2018, Petrus Bosman, the CEO of Bosman Adama, had the idea to develop Adama wines.”
Journeying into Adama Wines
On the Adama Wines website, the word “trailblazers” is defined as “persons who make new track in wild country”. The wine brand is fully controlled and managed by nine women, and women have a 30% ownership share in it.
Faro, as a founding member of the team, is immensely proud of how far the brand has come.
“We started off with only two ladies in 2018. It was just me and another lady. I was doing the viticulture and she was doing the winemaking. About a year after that, they did the whole value chain, [with someone] to do the logistics, [someone] to do the quality, [and someone who] can do the finance. So, we built that structure within Adama Wines.”
As the viticulturalist on the team, Faro’s role is to make sure that the grapes going into the wine is of an excellent quality. Part of her duties include going to their producers to check the grape quality, assess the canopy management, and assist where necessary.
“My job is actually to make sure that the farmers are doing the right job within the vineyards before we actually get to the cellar. So, I have to purchase [the grapes] from the different farmers and then I also have to deal with the contracts as well of the different farmers. [I also] have to communicate with the winemaker and with the whole team and then take it from there.”
Faro works with winemaker Praisy Dhlamini, and when they started initially, the products they made under Adama Wines were bulk orders for private clients. This changed in 2020 when Dhlamini has the idea to establish their own brand, Faro says.
“That is actually where the HER wine collection started. In 2020, we started with two red wines, which were shiraz and pinotage. Last year, we were making our two whites, which was a sauvignon blanc and a chenin. So, it was during that time of Covid-19, where we had to be innovative, we had to start thinking big, we had to start testing how the market was out there.”
‘The colour of my skin is a big barrier’
At only 29, Faro says she often has to communicate with farmers who do not really respect her knowledge or skills. She says that many farmers have been in the industry for long, and they are not happy with having to take instruction from her.
“I have to tell them at what time they must come deliver their grapes, and how much they must use, etc. For me, it is like they see [me] as this young woman and [they feel] challenged a bit. So, that is for me the biggest challenge, the communication with these farmers sometimes and how they see [me]. But I put my head down and say [my] decisions are for the team and for the company.”
She says, amongst viticulturists, she often stands out and sometimes she has difficulty being taken seriously.
“The colour of my skin as well. It’s a big barrier sometimes, and then now I have to go out there and [converse] with all these different men who still are dominant in this industry. That is a challenge for me.”
Despite these challenges, Faro is still incredibly enthusiastic about viticulture and the wine industry in general. She explains that she wants more black people to join the industry, but she also urges them only to join if they are passionate about it.
“For me, it’s about the passion that you have. You really have to have a passion for what you do.”
She believes the industry is ripe with opportunity, which is why she hopes more black people and more women will enter the industry.
“I actually want to be one of the voices who help young people out there to enter the industry and to learn more because the opportunities in it are so big and there’s so much room to grow as an individual as well. For the past almost six years that I have been within the industry, I’ve grown tremendously, and I really think it’s all about what you do and how you do it.”
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