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Opening Doors | Part 1

Outwardly, it’s been a year of positive changes in the winelands community. A number of organisations have been opening doors all over the map and none more so than the Vinpro Foundation. This NPO has identified three transformation target arenas; Harm Reduction, within workers’ lives; Early Childhood Development, for the birthing of a fresh legacy; and Leadership and Skills, a key requirement for the workers of today. Vinpro’s Unathi Mantshongo (pictured), believes that, “The industry has to become inclusive on all levels, in order to be competitive and thrive.” With this in mind, we decide it would be a good idea to connect with some people on the frontline of transformation, to see if they have positive things to say...

Our first day starts with a young man named Heinrich (pictured). We find him at an event hosted by Wine Training of South Africa (WTSA), a Non-Profit Organisation that offers a comprehensive training programme for local cellar workers. WTSA is celebrating its 30th years of SKOP (Senior Kelder-assistent Opleidings Program) training, at Aan De Doorns Kelder, where Heinrich, a recipient, has been invited to share his opinions and experiences with the crowd. Standing broad, with a determined look in his eye, Heinrich claps us on the shoulders after his enthusiastic speech has ended, and immediately launches into another speech, just for us. He tells us of his very first experience in the industry, many years back. 

“I remember when I was moving the wine between tanks. I wasn’t actually 100% sure we were doing the right thing, cos the wine didn’t smell of alcohol! I ran up to check with the winemaker and he told me to have a sip, but I was completely confused. I asked him what kind of strange sugary wine they made here... this was the first time I learnt that wine actually starts as grape juice!”

Heinrich Le Fleur had started his adult life wanting to be a pro-soccer player, but a need for quick work landed him a harvest job at Douglas Green Bellingham, aged 19. As his first harvest season drew to a close, Heinrich, still clueless about winemaking processes, had decided that he wanted to know more about producing. That’s where the SKOP courses had come into play. The three years of WTSA-sponsored courses fast-tracked Heinrich’s progress so much so that, after consistent years of hard study and apprenticeship, Heinrich now finds himself part of an accomplished 3-man winemaker team, at Bellingham. He is still improving his skills and knowledge every day, he tells us.

When we ask Heinrich about his mentor, he casually turns to his friend, standing next to him. Mario Damon is soft-spoken, but equally confident in himself. We soon learn that Mario has worked in numerous wine cellars in France, USA and Mexico and brought back valuable insights into global trends and methods of production. Mario was recently inducted as a board member for the WTSA, and he tells us that he is really looking forward to giving back to the industry, from this new position. His career had started in much the same way as for Heinrich; enrollment in a free SKOP class, back in 2000, when he was a newbie. When we ask him about visible transformation within the industry, Mario (pictured) is quick to say: 

“It’s real. No one is saying you can’t improve yourself. You just have to take the opportunity. Sure, the opportunity didn’t exist until relatively recently, but the opportunities are all here now... it’s just what you make of them.”

WTSA runs off the motto of “It always seems impossible until it’s done” (first spoken by Nelson Mandela himself). Managed by the twinkly-eyed Emma Burger, who brims with excited energy - it is no surprise that this motto is lived out on a daily basis. The WTSA, in their own words, is an organisation based on the industry taking responsibility for itself. Importantly, they consider all in their circle to be “the people we work with, and not the people who work for us.”
After casually chatting to Emma (pictured) and her two graduates, Heinrich and Mario, who look more like overgrown sons, we ask Heinrich what his next career move is. He smiles, mischievously. He’s got itchy feet, he tells us. He wants to see all the kinds of things Mario has seen, and more...

“If I get an opportunity to go overseas, I'll go. And I'll learn every skill I can! I'd love to learn something valuable about their style of doing things overseas, and bring it back here to South Africa. I believe that if anything comes your way, don't ever turn it down. I have been in the industry seven years and the chance to learn overseas hasn't come yet, but I’m not giving up… I know the chance will come!”

End of Part 1 | Be sure to join us for Part 2 as we have a look at further amazing #socialstories about #WineforGood...