If you are a wine farmer, the name Bosman Family Vineyards is synonymous with vine cuttings; if you are a wine consumer, Bosman signifies unusual, award-winning wines AND happy workers; if you are a vineyard worker, Bosman Vineyards seems like the dream place to work and live. I got to see why all these interpretations are true, and more.

Having grown up in the Cape Winelands and worked in the industry for most of my adult life, it might seem surprising that I had no idea how to get to Bosman Family Vineyards. Wellington is still regarded as ‘off the beaten [wine] track’ but that is something that should change, and soon, judging by the quality wines that are emanating from this quarter.

Take a drive down Wellington’s main street, aptly named Kerk Street after the imposing church at the top, sporting a statue of the famous philanthropist Andrew Murray front and centre. Keep going past Bovlei Cellar to the Bo Vallei, literally meaning ‘above the valley’ where you will find pristine rolling vineyards hemmed in by towering mountains and dotted with a few white washed Cape Dutch buildings.

More scenic treats await as you drive up to the farm gates of Bosman Family Vineyards and through the lush gardens towards the 250 year old cellar. But this is actually where the adventure begins.

Bosman Family Vineyards was recently awarded the ‘Ethical Company of the year’ award at the Drinks Business Green Awards in London. The Drinks Business is the leading international trade magazine covering the global wine industry and the award was specifically for “a company or product whose foundations are firmly based in, and dedicated to, the community and/or environment where they are based”, hence my visit.

Petrus Bosman, MD of Bosman Family Vineyards and the 8th generation on the farm, is careful to explain that their community development didn’t just start a few years ago due to pressure from government: “In the 1900’s my great grandfather, Jan Bosman, together with his wife, Anna, already started investing in social development and fair labour practices on the farm. During his era, he employed Adam Apollis, after whom the Adama range is named, and whose 5th generation descendants still live and work on the farm.

While the farm grew from strength to strength under the next generations Petrus SNR, Jannie SNR and their workers, wine was made in the ancient cellar until 1956 but from then delivered to the Wamakersvallei Co-op in the village. Petrus SNR started selling his surplus cuttings to a visiting wine farmer and from there the nursery was established.  Today Lelienfontein Vine Growers is the single largest supplier of cuttings in Africa.

Petrus explains that propagating cuttings is a very labour intense process, hence the farm employs exponentially more workers than the average wine farm, and these workers require a sophisticated skill set to propagate healthy cuttings for the table grape, raisin and wine industries. It was therefore of paramount importance to establish good worker relations from the outset to ensure high service delivery. “We have had a Workers’ Committee since 1992 where we were able to negotiate and cooperate with our workers and build a relationship of trust.”

This developed into the Adama Trust, established in 2008, and today owns 26% of the entire business from vine to wine.  Adam Apollis was the name of paternal head of the Apollis family who have lived on the farm for 5 generations. His nickname was Adama, but the name is also derived from the Hebrew meaning of Adam: ‘from the earth’, and so signifies the deep ties between the workers, the Bosmans and the earth from which they make their living.

In 2009 Bosman Family Vineyards achieved Fairtrade accreditation and through the premiums they collect from the sale of their Fairtrade wines, the farm has been able to invest in its workers in terms of transport, a pre-school, a computer centre, a clinic, sporting and cultural clubs and so much more.

Petrus proudly shows off the facilities and I get to meet a handful of fresh faced workers who eloquently explain their role on the farm and the training they have received, facilitated by VinPro and various training programmes, to qualify them for their specific positions. The results are everywhere and on all levels. Petrus can remember a time not so long ago when 1 or 2 scholars passed matric. Last year 12 out of 13 candidates matriculated successfully. Row upon row of beautiful worker cottages are surpassed only by their bountiful gardens and there is so much more.

And of course the Bosman Family Vineyards wines can speak for themselves: Platter 2017 awarded 5 stars to their Twyfeling, describing it as a ‘stylish bushvine cinsaut’; and 4 ½ stars to the Optenhorst Chenin Blanc made from a 64 year old vineyard. But this wasn’t just a lucky strike, another 8 wines received 4 stars, proving that this is truly a quality cellar, cocking a snook at the perception that transformation wines are mediocre.

“The secret of our success,” explains Petrus, “is that we believe an inclusive business model is good business for the long term.” 

And his advice to other wine growers? “Don’t feel daunted by the task, just work with the people and institutions that are already in place. Opportunities will come and you will see a difference.”

Meet some of the movers and shakers on the farm that are making a difference on all levels:

Rita Andreas: Drakenstein Municipality: Rural Development
Rita was born and brought up on the farm, beginning adult life as a general worker in the vineyards. But she soon worked her way into the office and became Personnel Manager is 2003. She was the founding chairperson of the Adama Workers Trust but now works at the Drakenstein Municipality where she involves herself in a whole host of community projects on the farms and in the wider community as a mentor and project manager

Natasha Williams: Junior Winemaker
Natasha received her B Sc. Oenology and Viticulture cum laude from Stellenbosch in 2013. She joined the Bosman cellar in 2014, working under Corlea Fourie, Head of Wine and Viticulture.

Mariaan Samuels: Tunnel Manager
Mariaan spent several years managing the chemical store at the nursery before taking over the management of the vine propagation tunnels. She grew up on the farm as her parents are also employed there.

Ruth Faro: Chemical store manager and Youth Mentor
Ruth originally wanted to become a social worker and so studied People-Centred Community Development through UNISA. She was then selected for the work readiness programme presented by the Pinotage Youth Development Academy, an NGO which focusses on skills capacity development within the wine industry. After that she completed the Skills Fusion programme facilitated by VinPro where she learnt about Plant Production amongst other wine industry skills.

She has taken over management of the chemical store at the nursery, but also spends time mentoring the younger workers. So inspired was she with what she learnt at the Pinotage Academy that she is paying it forward as a mentor for the new students of 2017 and serves on the alumni committee.

Vytjie April: Adama Nursery School Principal
Long before Fairtrade, Fytjie ran a crèche on the farm for the workers’ children, pretty much free of charge. She found space in an abandoned parsonage next door to the primary school and looked after about 18 children every day while their parents (and her husband) worked on the farm. 

Fairtrade premiums allowed this informal child-minding group to be expanded into a fully-fledged pre-school with four classes and eight trained teachers in the renovated parsonage which now also houses a clinic, an office for a social worker and a computer centre for the older children to use after school.

-Julia Moore