In February this year, Fairview’s Charles Back was awarded the 1659 Wine Industry Medal of Honour. The recipient of this award is selected by a panel of wine industry stalwarts and presented to an individual who has created a legacy and played a profound role in the wine industry.

One of the key areas where Charles Back has played a pioneering role is that of transformation, so I went to find out more.

As usual Fairview is a hive of activity and not just because it’s harvest time. Loads of tourists are traipsing around the tasting room, sampling both wine and cheese. Fresh faced youngsters welcome you at the door and make sure you get the service you require. There are tutored tastings on the go at the one end and cheese and wine pairings at the other. Satisfied customers leave loaded with cases of wine and packets of cheese, as well as delicious looking pickles and preserves.

I manage to corner Charles in the Goatshed restaurant and over a steaming cup of strong coffee, he chats about transformation on Fairview. Way back in the mid-1980’s Charles commissioned a research project by the University of Stellenbosch to find out what their 59 farmworkers’ requirements were. “I was shocked to find out that only one of them wanted to become a farmer, the rest simply wanted a good salary, medical aid, a house, a pension and education for their kids”.

Charles saw then that the best way to realise their dreams, was to employ both husband and wife and so create dual income households. This in turn meant that the farm had to shift from being a primary producer, to adding value to their products and therefore providing skilled jobs. And so the cheese business was formed, with the women making and selling cheese.

Today the farm employs 500 workers: “mostly women, because they’re smarter”, quips Charles with a grin. “Whenever someone shows potential, we try to equip them and educate them to achieve their potential. For instance, there was a worker who was due for retirement but still keen to earn money, so we taught him to drive and bought him a taxi. He now owns several taxis and transports all our workers to and from work. 

“I spotted a cellar worker studying in his lunch break. He told me he was studying Human Resources so we got him involved in our HR office. We offer basic adult education classes on the farm for everyone who is keen to better themselves. They have to sacrifice their Saturday mornings, but it gives them a chance to better themselves and potentially earn more money doing a better skilled job”.

On the job training is offered in every part of the business; and a workers’ committee handles their affairs. While no NGO’s are involved, Fairview does make use of government funding to keep their projects running.

“It’s not always a bed of roses,” says Charles, “but when issues arise, we deal with them and we learn from them. We try not to focus on the problems though, but rather on the successes, and in the end success breeds success”.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Charles still has a stack of plans in the pipeline to invest further in his workers and create even more opportunities along the way. Watch this space!


-Julia Moore