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Please introduce yourself, so that the world may know who you are!
I was born and bred in Winburg in the Free State, and went to school there as well. My dad farmed with sheep and wheat – I never actually saw a grapevine while living in the Free State, and our family didn’t drink wine often (the selection on offer was never something to write home about!) I attended University in Bloem where I dabbled in various subjects, after which I went to Technicon Free state and completed a diploma in Fine Arts. I met my husband there and we moved to Cape Town, then on to Hopefield and then to St Helena Bay along the West Coast, where I mostly worked in restaurants and at a hotel. We worked overseas for two seasons on a ski resort in the USA. We eventually came back and I worked in Sandton, in a restaurant where I later became manager. We bought a house there and got ready to settle down in Gauteng…..
When did you first become interested in wine? And what led you to study wine making?
As restaurant manager I had to compile the wine list and I got to taste many different wines. I met lots of winemakers and I discovered that Sauvignon Blanc actually tastes different to Chardonnay! I decided to broaden my knowledge a bit and started attending the Cape Wine Academy courses. However, I could not stop, because I became more and more intrigued by this thing called wine and realised one day that the science around wine would forever satisfy my curiosity, and I would never be bored in my job again. I enrolled at Elsenburg College and moved down to the Cape in December 2004 to study full time.
You made a lot of sacrifices in your desire to become a winemaker, such as leaving your job, relocating to Cape Town and enrolling to study again. It is true that for every dream, there is a lot of hard work and sacrifice, what has been the most rewarding part of your journey as a wine maker?
Yes, it is true – dreams alone cannot get you where you want to be. You have to work hard and sacrifice quite a lot in the process.
The most rewarding thing for me in this journey was that ever since I made the decision to study wine, everything seemed to fall into place for me, which convinces me until today that it was the best (albeit risky) decision I had ever made:
- I got a bursary to study (I had no money or parents with money) and that paid for my tuition and study material. I still had to waitress on weekends to help pay the rent. And at the end of my third year, I obtained my degree Cum Laude, and was also awarded the top cellar student in theory and practical. An accolade not many women achieved at Elsenburg, according to my knowledge. So some of the hard work must have paid off!
- When I first decided to go and study winemaking, I had this dream that I would like to make wine on Vergenoegd. We sold a lot of their wines in the restaurant, and I loved the wines. So, lucky me, a position became available at the end of my third year (for Farm Manager actually), I applied, and got the job. The position also included duties as assistant winemaker, and my dream was realised…….
There is a very romantic shade cast over female wine makers, but what sort of unique challenges face women wine makers? And what sort of challenges have you faced as a female?
I think that the world still sees woman wine makers as the “pretty face” behind the wine, which is fine, but they actually have to realise that it entails very hard work (and most of the time physical) and a lot of sacrifice. During harvest time, you have no family life and have to put them second as you work very long hours, seven days a week, because the wine is now your baby. It is also much of a “man’s world” still, being part of the agricultural industry. So, inevitably, you are going to meet some challenges. My biggest one was to prove myself as a competent Farm Manager in a world full of men that are only used to working with a man or for a man! But I think that, after a year or two, they preferred a woman, because we can be consistently fair in our judgements, our admin is always up to date, and we know something like empathy!
What are your goals for the future as a wine maker at Vergenoegd?
After the farm was sold in October last year, I started my first year flying solo, I would like to continue producing wines of great quality, maybe with a slight feminine touch. I do not want to become famous, unless it is for something that no-one has ever achieved, like eradicating the alcohol addiction among our farm communities.
The issue of alcohol among the farm workers, is this something close to your heart, something you would want to help heal so to speak?
Yes – it is something very close to my heart. I see the effects of alcoholism daily – neglected children, the effects of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, teenage pregnancies, to name but a few. Over the years I have tried to “heal” this, but it is often only seen as interference, and it is not something that can be cured easily, and without the necessary funding that enables professional help, it seems like a dead end. However, there were some cases where I managed to help and the reward that entails this encourages me to just keep on trying forever!
What other social problems are close to your heart?
The fact that children leave school at a young age (sometimes as young as 12!) due to the fact that parents sometimes can’t or won’t afford to keep them at school, Many of them often have severe learning disabilities, sometimes due to the effects of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome but also because their social background does not “allow” for them to want to achieve anything in life. When leaving school, they are too young to get a job, and often fall pregnant or become involved with drugs and crime.
Does Vergenoegd Wine Estate do any sort of work in the community?
Yes, our chosen charity to contribute to is the First River Fun Club, a program started by a friend of mine three years ago. It involves a two-week program in December each year. The children (approximately 50) in the community attend workshops that teach them life skills, art, dreams, spiritual input, dance, sport, nature conservation, and lots of other fun activities. I help by getting donations from our suppliers, and Vergenoegd donates toward this as well, mostly to fund art supplies and food during the program. The children have a concert on the last night of the program where they can show off their skills and performance abilities, and the Vergenoegd team attend the concert to show our support. The last event of this night is Santa Claus arriving to give each child a “Santa shoebox”. Vergenoegd staff contribute to these shoeboxes – last year we made up about 14 shoeboxes between us, but that was entirely for our own accounts.
What sort of advice would you give to individuals interested in wine making? What sort of challenges should they look out for and what should they be prepared for?
- Work hard, never rest on your laurels
- Even if you have 15 years’ experience, you still don’t know anything!
- Every vintage is different, never make assumptions
- Never think you know what nature is going to throw at you
- Don’t ever do it for the money, but for the love of it
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