The Stellenbosch wine region is to introduce a training scheme that it hopes could transform the lives of its vineyard workers and see the country become an ‘international leader’ in viticultural practice.
The pioneering Vineyard Worker Training Initiative is a ten-part programme covering all aspects of field work, from pruning, irrigation and soil preparation to handling chemicals. It is to be made available to all of Stellenbosch’s estimated 10,000 vineyard workers.
Under the scheme, vineyard workers – who typically have no qualifications – will attend a series of one-day courses at host wineries, and will receive formal recognition for the modules they have completed.
All of the workers’ qualifications will be stored on a digital database, accessible by the farmers. The latter will be able to pick the best-qualified workers. In turn, the workers with the best qualifications ought to be able to command a higher price for their services.
Mike Ratcliff, chair of the Stellenbosch Wine Route, who is in charge of implementing the scheme, hopes to have trained 5,000 workers – half of Stellenbosch’s vineyard workforce – inside two years and to be ‘churning out vineyard managers’ at the end of it. He also hopes that the pioneering scheme could form a blueprint for other regions in South Africa and other countries to follow.
‘I want Stellenbosch to be recognised as the region that did it differently, that became the leader,’ he told Imbibe. ‘And we can take it further, to become an international leader. Why not have delegations from Napa and Bordeaux coming here to see how we broke the back of this problem that’s been here for ever?’
Certainly, it’s a timely move. There are general elections in South Africa next year, and land reform – specifically the redistribution of some white-owned land to the indigenous population - has become a live issue.
‘We’re not using words like “empowerment” or “uplift” – they’re too big and scary,’ said Ratcliff. ‘I’m not the government or the mayor. Instead we’re laser-focused on one single objective: vineyard worker training.