Empowerment for Cape Workers in Burgundy

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Some Cape Flavour in the vineyards of Burgundy.

ONE of the South African wine industry’s most successful empowerment initiatives celebrates 10 years this year. It was back in 2001 when the first group of Western Cape wine farm workers left their overalls behind, headed for Cape Town International and jetted to the hallowed vineyards of Burgundy for the first Western Cape-Burgundy Exchange Programme.

Since then over 120 workers, most of whom began their careers in menial jobs, have had the privilege of visiting Burgundy to work a harvest at a domaine, as well as to attend a two-week course in Burgundian vineyards, wines and culture at the Centre de Formation Professionnelle et de Promotion Agricole (CFPPA) in Beaune.

Currently a group of 15 Cape winery workers are in Burgundy, just finishing off their two weeks orientation before heading out to their respective domaines where they work alongside and live with the cellar’s French owners.

According to Florence Zito, who co-ordinates the project on behalf of the CFPPA, the purpose of this unique programme is twofold. “First it is about exposing people from another country to Burgundy and our wine culture and wines,” she says. “Secondly we in Burgundy would be honoured if we could contribute to empowering people from South Africa who have not been having many opportunities in the wine industry in your country.”

Having visited Burgundy twice with some of these “worker students” I can vouch that theirs is the kind of experience any wine-lover would pay good money for. Situated in the heart of Beaune, the CFPPA will be your home for two weeks. Here daily lectures on the French wine industry, appelations, soils, climate is given, plus myriad tastings and visits to cellars and vineyards in the C?+¦???+¦?+¦????te de Nuits and C?+¦???+¦?+¦????te de Beaune.

Florence Zito, the heart of the Burgundy Exchange Programme.

Thereafter, you get allocated a domaine where you spend eight weeks in the cellar and the vineyards, assisting with the harvest, working alongside some of the most passionate wine people in the world and generally soaking in the joyous atmosphere.

The Western Cape-Burgundy Wine Exchange Programme is, however, not a sightseeing holiday. The CFPPA and the local Burgundian Government are committed to contributing to an improvement in the lives of the South African farm workers.

“We would hope that upon their return to South Africa the experience in Burgundy leads to an upliftment of themselves and how they perceive themselves in the wine industry,” says Florence.

This definitely is the case. Take Mervyn Williams, former gardener and cellarhand at De Wetshof Wine Estate whose, current title at De Wetshof reads “Winemaker”.

“The opportunity of visiting, working and learning in Burgundy helped me grow in the wine industry,” says Williams who is now Danie de Wet’s point-man on De Wetshof. “It gave me a tremendous amount of confidence and seeing the international reach of the wine industry and the passion it evokes in foreign countries made me realise how privileged I am to be involved in it.”

Or Felicity Seholoba from Welmoed Winery, who could not go to school until she was 12 because there was no money adn she had to help her mother in the Stellenbosch vineyards. After starting at Welmoed as a cleaner, she is today assistant winemaker.

“I was fortunate to visit Burgundy twice, both times as part of the Exchange Programme, and the biggest thing I got out of the whole thing was inspiration,” she says. “All I knew about wine was alcohol abuse. Being involved in the French wine culture truly woke me up to the fact that this is a wonderful industry on which we can all be proud. I am inspired to fulfil my potential and to become a fully-fledged winemaker.”

Empowerment and BEE in general is obsessed with shares, scorecards, land-transfers and tangibles. This Burgundy Programme and the opportunity it provides to empowering the spirit and soul of previously disadvantaged people makes one realise the importance of empowering values and ambitions. Personal enrichment is not based on material success alone.

-,,,,, Emile Joubert

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