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Winery bets big on empowering women

De Toren Wine Cellar is intentional in its pro-female stance towards employment

Glass ceilings are been shattered at the De Toren Wine Cellar in Stellenbosch. 60% of all permanent employees on all levels are female, like cellar personnel Michelle Radloff (front) and Rochelle Scheefers. Photo: Supplied

Do you believe that there is a distinct power in a woman’s touch? There is a winery in the Western Cape that holds firm to this sentiment, choosing to have its vineyards and cellar tended mostly by women.

Sixty percent of the De Toren Wine Cellar’s vineyard and cellar workers are women. It also prefers female seasonal and permanent workers to take the reigns as harvesters and vineyard tenders in the field.

The majority Swiss-owned cellar is home to world-class wines and sits on the Polkadraai Hills, overlooking Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. Apart from the bold embrace of female inclusion it also lays claim to many industry firsts.

Read: Radical changes needed to ensure inclusion of women in agriculture

They were the first to produce French Bordeaux-style blends in South Africa, the first to introduce a gravity-fed cellar, and the first to achieve over 90 points from wine critics for a maiden vintage.

Even the vineyard’s rows are aligned to face the prevailing winds off False Bay and not at right angles to the wind, as wine farmers are taught to do. By doing this, cooler air is channelled through the vineyard, lowering the temperature, extending the ripening period and keeping the vines free of disease.

Femininity is the key

It takes meticulous attention to detail when it comes to nurturing the vineyards to grow the perfect berries and producing wine through the gentlest of processes. The secret is in the women’s hands. This has been the case for over 20 years of the winery’s existence.

Pro-female approach trickles down to farm level. Wilma Riet prunes vineyards to grow grapes for De Toren’s exclusive wines. Photo: Supplied

“De Toren has become a safe haven of female inclusion and equality,” says the head of marketing and distribution Anja Bekker. She says the cellar was deliberate in their pro-female approach. Women are not only central in the making of wines but also take the helm in senior managerial positions.

“It is wonderful to work on an estate where the contribution of women is seen as critical and where innovation and world-class excellence are prized above all. We’re all extremely proud knowing that we make showcase wines that demonstrate to the world what South Africa is capable of producing,” she says.

Inside the heart of the winery, the cellar, is where the magic happens. Here you will find quality controllers and sisters, Rochelle and Christine Scheefers, bottling, labelling and packaging gift boxes and cases on order.

Attention to detail

“This feels like home,” says Rochelle Scheefers who has worked at the cellar since 2006. “There are great possibilities ahead for women in the wine industry, especially at estates such as De Toren that are very much focused on the finer attention to detail,” she says.

Her sentiments are echoed by her quality control specialist colleague and sister, Christine Scheefers. She believes that a woman’s superpower is paying attention to the finer things in life.

“I think the role of us women has evolved so much over the years and I think there is definitely room for more in the wine industry,” she says.

Michelle Radloff packing bottles of De Toren wine to ship to customers. Photo: Supplied

The Scheefers duo says a typical day in their life in the cellar involves ensuring that every single bottle is carefully labelled and packaged accordingly.

“I genuinely take great pride in my job. It is very important since these are the final touches, right down to the De Toren crest of approval holding the tissue paper in place and even the final closure of the case,” explains Rochelle.

Meanwhile, Christine adds that while it sounds simple or even menial to others, she finds labelling bottles gratifying. “Knowing that my personal touch will make a difference in the client’s overall experience, that is what keeps me going.”

“There are challenges working in the male-dominated industry. The trick is grace, keeping your head high in times of adversity or gender prejudice,” she says.

“I always say, the good days make up for the bad. It’s just always important to remember that everything is a learning curve and till this day I am still learning something new every day,” she says.

Read: Women’s Month: 15 #shebosses have a message for men in agri

With roots in the Northern Cape, this Kimberley Diamond has had a passion for telling human interest stories since she could speak her first words. A foodie by heart, she began her journalistic career as an intern at the SABC where she discovered her love for telling agricultural, community and nature related stories. Not a stranger to a challenge Ngcakani will go above and beyond to tell your truth.
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