Letters to the Juliet Crew

In the late 2020 fire season, which ran from November into April, 857 fires were recorded in the Cape Winelands District by March, according to Wayne Josias, acting Fire Chief for the district.

In this incendiary environment, lives, homes and livelihoods are at risk of destruction by fire and smoke.

Christa von La Chevallerie, proprietor at Huis van Chevallerie says that both smoke and fire can have negative ramifications for vineyards.

Christa says: “fire-awareness and management is ever-present in farming.”

Huis van Chevallerie has, alongside others, provided support to The Juliet Crew. Established over a year ago, the Juliet Crew is an all-woman fire-fighting team comprised of young adults from at-risk communities. Communities such as Mfuleni, Khayelitsha, Bonteheuwel, Touws River, Beaufort West, Retreat as well as Port Alfred, are represented in the Juliet Crew.


“Supporting the Juliet Crew in their endeavours, as part of this essential component of agriculture, makes perfect sense,” Christa says.

Named after the only female descriptor in the international phonetic alphabet, the Juliet Crew was conceived from the need to make firefighting more accessible to women. The Juliet Crew was created through a partnership between NCC Environmental Services and the Chrysallis Academy youth development organization, with the support of the Western Cape Government.

While the NCC Environmental Services fund transformation initiatives from their own funds, the Juliet Crew is also supported by the sale of the Huis Van Chevallerie Circa Pinotage Rose MCC, alongside other contributions. These, and other proceeds will go towards establishing a furnished and equipped base for the Juliet Crew, as well as other needs, such as female-appropriate kit and tailoring, and firefighting equipment.



  1. A History of Formidable Women

When Christa’s father, Juergen, bought the 110ha Nuwedam farm in 1956, Christa’s grandmother farmed on Nuwedam for 10 years before Christa’s mother and father were married in 1970.

Christa says that although her grandmother farmed livestock and tobacco in the 1960’s, the troubles were remarkably similar to today’s challenges.

“I don’t believe they had more water, the Swartland has always had an arid climate – so if you want to farm here, get used to it!” Christa says.

Christa says that her grandmother worked hard in the sun and taught her a great deal about farming.

“You wake up with the sun and you surely don’t rest before it sets, (my grandmother) never complained, she just kept going and held her head high. She never missed a thing, she was strict – as us Germans are – but was just as much fun! She also taught me how to play cards and not waste anything,” Christa recalls.

  1. Deep Roots

Although the family farm was recently sold, Christa continues to produce wine from Old Vines.

The Old Vine Project is a South African undertaking that certifies wines from vineyards that are over 35 years old. In 1974, Juergen von La Chavellerie planted an unirrigated Chenin Blanc vineyard that still succeeds at Nuwedam. The Huis van Chevallerie’s Fillia Kap Klassiek and Nuwedam Chenin Blanc have their genesis in this old vineyard.

Christa views Chenin Blanc and Pinotage through a powerful perspective, and through the prism of heritage.

Christa says: “I wanted to know why Chenin wasn’t being used more as a base for bubbly, there is a great need to create an exceptional product that is uniquely and characteristically South African, showcasing the Swartland – and more specifically, the old vine sites of the Paardeberg.”

“Pinotage was a greater challenge, but we are proud to claim the first 100% Pinotage Rose Sparkling wine – the Circa Pinotage Rose Brut!” Christa says.

“We tend to hide behind famous names instead of hailing Pinotage as our hero cultivar. I have been proud of this product from day one, and are still learning from it, year-on-year. Working with amazing farmers whom I trust is one of the secrets to success. The Circa Pinotage Rose Brut pairs well with food – especially when enjoyed with friends on a stoep with a braai,” Christa says.

  1. Through the Fire

“If there is a harsh fire close to vineyards which are ready to harvest, the smoke taint can be devastating – to the point where you cannot harvest and need to discard the grapes,” Christa says.

She describes the ramifications of smoke taint: “Berries have a film over the skin that absorbs the smoke and once processed, this cannot be removed in the juice – and later, in the wine.”

Besides the compounds in smoke which affect the perception of smoke taint, fire can decimate vineyards.

“Obviously the loss of old vineyards which can never be replaced can be devastating. For some producers, this has repercussions on the wine brand that you built – and it is not always easy to replace these precious resources,” Christa says.

  1. Fighting Fire

The Juliet Crew’s Superintendent (NCC Environmental Services) Kylie Paul says that while the Juliet Crew is currently not contracted to a specific area, which means that they are able to work throughout the country.

The Juliet Crew was deployed to several Cape Nature fires this past season – in Grabouw, Villiersdorp and Theewaterskloof.

Kylie says: “The Juliet Crew was deployed to a fire that started in the Grabouw area and traveled all the way to Franschhoek/Stellenbosch burning around 13 000ha. We were deployed three times to this fire for minimum 24 hour deployments, most were around 30 hours.”

The Juliet Crew was trooped into that fire by chopper, Kylie says: “we worked two massive sections, with the assistance of the Waterfal Cape Nature Crew and a small Volunteer Wildfire service contingent.”

The Juliet Crew’s second deployment was from the Lourensford Wine Farm to the Swartkopberg peak in the SANDF Oryx. Kylie says: “we were deployed as a single crew with a Cape Nature Divisional supervisor/Jonkershoek mountain ranger as a guide, on a long and very active fire line.”

Kylie says: “our final deployment was epically poetic. The Juliet Crew impressed me one more time by taking care to ensure that this fire (near Pniel) was completely out (working with the Cape Nature crews) and that when we were trooped out one last time. We could ensure that the communities and agencies that this monster of a fire was fully contained. There was a further observation after hours, and the fire was declared completely contained that day.”

- Blog by Tshepang Molisana