“As a farm child, I think the one positive about it all is that one can freely run around on the property. You are out in nature and I always loved the fact that it’s so safe to be out there,” Denzel Swarts says.

Denzel Swarts is the founder of the Son of the Soil Leadership Foundation and Son of the Soil Wines. Denzel is a third-generation descendant of farmworkers, having been born on Simonsig in Stellenbosch. His work as a Simonsig brand ambassador has parallel power as it frames the narrative around a modern South African wine story.

Top image: Denzel Swarts

“I’m part of the family,” Denzel says of his proximity to the proprietors of Simonsig. His mother, Serena Plaatjies worked as a domestic worker and his late father, John Plaatjies worked as a farm foreman, while his grandfather worked on the farm as well. Denzel describes his circumstances as ‘standing on the shoulders of farmworkers’.

“Me being third generation really tells a story that people were caring, otherwise my family would have left a long time ago. That family comradery is what still remains today,” Denzel says.

“I remember that Oom Frans was a very strict man, but he was very innovative, and his wife was just the most amazing,” Denzel enthusiastically explains, “it was always nice to play with his grandchildren – who are similar in age to me – at their house.”

Simonsig celebrated 50 years of continuous Chenin Blanc production in 2018. Simonsig founder, Frans Malan bottled the first bottle of ‘Steen’, or Chenin Blanc under the Estate’s own label in 1968. Simonsig is also celebrated as the site at which South Africa’s first bottle-fermented wine, Cap Classique, dubbed ‘Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel’, was bottled in 1971.

The Cape sparkle holds allure in a myriad of ways.

Denzel’s work as a Simonsig Brand Ambassador fulfills part of his life-long dream of working in the wine industry.

Denzel noted that few of his peers at Koelenhof Primary School ascended to matric. His own dreams of attaining a higher education qualification were dashed due to funding challenges. Disillusioned by the lack of post-apartheid progress in the industry, he left the wine industry in 2005. He worked in Non-Governmental Organisations with young people in townships and farms – as part of his desire to uplift the lives of others.

After being retrenched from his NGO work, he returned to the wine industry. In 2011, Denzel embraced his role as Simonsig Tasting Room Manager. Simonsig championed his desire to study, supporting him through the Cape Wine Academy and Junior Management, through WineTech. Denzel is a graduate of UCT Business School’s The Business of Wine course and he has the desire to achieve a Masters Degree.

“It is up to me, now that I have had an education by studying further to ensure that I help other farm kids to study further and this is how I developed the Son of the Soil Leadership Foundation.”

Through the Son of the Soil Leadership Foundation, Denzel says he works to aid grade ten learners to remain in school through to grade twelve, which he hopes will give them the opportunity to study further, if they have the desire or to give them the opportunity to find safe and fulfilling work. Each beneficiary of the program takes part in the program at an annual cost of R35,000, which is dependent on the Son of the Soil Leadership Foundation’s wine sales and donations.

“The important thing is to stay in school,” Denzel imparts to his students, which include students from Mitchell’s Plain.

The carrot that Denzel uses to drive the students to complete their education is a two-and-half-week international trip, with the support of the Son of the Soil Foundation and its benefactors.

“Over three years, students remain in school, participate in the programs and at the end of the three years, they get to travel with me to an international destination.”

The Foundation and its work are supported by Son of the Soil Wines and other benefactors, including Simonsig. Son of the Soil Wines are available through the Cultivate Collective. The three wines are reflective of the Cape: Break the Mould Chenin Blanc, the Undiscovered Jewel Pinotage and the Infinite Sparkle Cap Classique.

“It’s amazing to be able to see a product on the shelves – yes, it is my label – but it is a product that represents farm people, and one that represents that spirit of Ubuntu. Everything that I know in my life was nurtured by people that looked after me, studies that I have received and farm people that encouraged me to move forward in life,” Denzel says.

Denzel desires to drive young people, imparting: “you need to continue to work to support your dreams, you need to be resilient, you need to stick your head out, whether you’re going to fail or not. Use obstacles and create opportunities.”

Top image: Son of the Soil Wines at the Cultivate Collective

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