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Wine farms "pillars of local economy"

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Wine farms "pillars of local economy"
Michelle Isaacs(33) never finished school but is a rising star in the local wine industry. In 1998 Isaacs began working on the Klein Constantia Wine Estate as a Vineyard Technician,   pruning vines, harvesting grapes etc. A mere 15 years later she holds the prestigious portfolio of Exports and Dry Goods Manager.

“I worked hard and learnt everything I could wherever I worked,” Isaacs said, “and I jumped at every opportunity to learn something new.”

Isaacs is part of a new generation of wine farm workers benefitting from reformed philosophies within the Constantia Wine Farm Industry. “We realized a long time ago that community upliftment would play a vital role in determining our long term success,” said Alan Wickstom, the Cellar Door Manager at the Klein Constantia Wine Estate.

According to Wickstom, The Klein Constantia wine farm was the first wine estate in South Africa to help their employees own their own property. “We bought a parcel of land in Westlake, built houses on it for our employees, helped them get bonds from a bank and taught them the basics of owning a home and paying it off,” he says with pride. 

Isaacs was one such employee to benefit from this scheme. “My husband also works on the farm and we paid our bond off, sold the house for a profit and bought a bigger home in Muizenberg last year.” 

“We put a lot of time and money into training our staff,” says Wickstom. “The more knowledgeable and proficient our employees have become, the more pride they have taken in their work, which is vital when you consider that a good vintage year is totally dependent on what they do out there in the vineyards.”

It is no wonder therefore that more than 80% of Klein Constantia’s 75 strong workforce have been employed on the farm for more than 15 years. In the bigger picture, Klein Constantia contributes approximately 6 million rand to the local economy in the form of wages. This pales in comparison to Groot Constantia Wine Estate which foots an annual wage and electricity bill of 10,8 million rand.

“It is not just in revenue generated by wine sales, wine tasting and through the injection of money into the community through wages that we contribute to the local economy,” says Jean Naude, General Manager of Groot Constantia Estate, “tourism is another big spin off we have.”

According to Naude, Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Steenberg, Buitenverwachting, Constantia Uitsig, Constantia Glen, Eagles Nest, Beau Constantia and Silvermist, which make up the Constantia Wine Route, have all gone to great lengths to portray Constantia as a great destination for oversees tourists. 

“We ourselves advertise the quality and sophistication of our multiple award winning wines, the natural beauty of our wine farm, its tranquility, its historical background and early Cape Dutch architecture,” Naude says, “but we don’t stop there; we highlight the beauty and safety of Constantia as a whole, the other wine farms, Kirstenbosch Gardens,
the closeness to the city and the double decker sight seeing bus route which runs through Constantia.”

Naude explains that the portrayal of Constantia as a collective whole is a major drawcard of people to the area, creating a steady flow of customers for the wine farms, local B+B’s, hotels, restaurants, travel guides and for local businesses.

Tim Scarborough, owner of Klein Bosheuwel Guest House in Constantia, says he loves sending his guests to Groot Constantia wine farm because he knows that they produce quality wines. In the last year alone Groot Constantia has won 5 international gold medals, once again drawing the international community’s attention to Cape Towns very own wine route.

Rick Bartlett, owner of Constantia Stables guest house in the heart of Constantia says that his close proximity to the wine farms in Constantia affects his business in a very positive way. “At least 20% of all my visitors, especially Europeans, come to me specifically because they want to visit the wine farms on the Constantia Wine Route,” Bartlett says, explaining that much of his advertising oversees highlights the fact that three or four of the best wine producing estates in South Africa are right on his doorstep and that they are the oldest and most established wine farms. 

The other 80% of Bartletts guests come because of the total package Constantia offers them - the wine farms, the beauty, the history, architecture and the closeness to Kirstenbosch Gardens, the city and many beautiful beaches. “At least five of the farms,” Bartlett adds, “have top quality restaurants which I book for my guests as far as 6 months in advance.”  

Another way in which the wine industry in Constantia contributes to the economy is through its support of local industries. “As far as possible we always try to support local Constantia businesses,” Wickstom says, pointing out as an example how their clothes are made by a local clothes manufacturer. Michelle Isaacs benefits from their support too.

“After work, my husband, a friend of ours and myself make packets for the bottles of wine and other merchandise sold at the wine farms,” Isaacs says, “which Klein Constantia and other wine farms allow us to sell at their shops.”

Wickstom explains that their success is directly related to the success of the other wine farms and businesses in Constantia.  “We share the philosophy that if we work together we are better off than working alone,” he says, “we feel our customers out to find out what they really want and so we often send our visitors to a neighboring farm to taste their shiraz or whatever might be particularly good there or to a restaurant we think they will enjoy. If they leave with a great impression of Constantia we all win.”

Words and images by Clinton Wittstock
Freelance writer and photographer
Article appeared in the Constantiaberg Bulletin

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