TWENTY AKKEDISBERG VINEYARD WORKERS TURN SEVEN BAGS OF SALT INTO 16 HECTARES OF HOPE AND INSPIRE THE WHOLE COMMUNITY
At the foot of the southernmost mountain range in Africa, a group of workers have been cultivating land and tending vineyards in the award-winning Overberg wine region for decades. Now, the workers of Akkedisberg Boerdery PTY (LTD) are the proud owners of their own brand and story.
The excitement is palpable in the fynbos sea air on the well-known wine farm Raka, between Caledon and Stanford, in the Western Cape, South Africa. It is here that twenty members of Akkedisberg launched their first wine, Southern Treasures Pinotage 2021, on Wednesday 10 May 2023. Akkedisberg Boerdery, a company with a trust as shareholders and beneficiaries, was founded in 2013. They lease 16 hectares of land from Raka Wines, at a nominal amount with a 30-year agreement.
“This is a story about a respected and well-known family business, the Dreyer family, a dedicated mentor who, together with their workers, embarked on a journey to create and build a dream.” This, according to Wendy Petersen, Executive Manager of the SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit (SAWITU). ” The story behind this new brand is a community living in harmony with what nature gave them and how there is a mutual appreciation. Now, a hidden treasure from the Klein River Valley is in a bottle for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.”
The brand name Southern Treasures refers to the people who made this empowerment project possible. According to Petersen, the expression “eating a sack of salt together” does not adequately describe what this project achieved within ten years. “Rather seven heavy sacks of salt, such as in the well-known Afrikaans nursery rhyme, which the workers of Akkedisberg and the owners of Raka have now transformed into 16 hectares of hope. They inspire the whole community.”
QUALITY WINE WITH ITS HEART IN THE RIGHT PLACE
Led by their mentor Josef Dreyer and their two directors, Mariëtte Moos and Christel Moses, Akkedisberg’s proud group of men and women is now launching their first barrel-aged Southern Treasures Pinotage 2021, made from grapes from their own vineyards.
Generations close to the vineyard have worked together in these southern vineyards to create an excellent version of South Africa’s distinctive Pinotage cultivar. A wine that has aromas of ripe cherry, blackberry, plum and light hints of oak that promise excellent ageing potential. Conscious wine drinkers will be happy to hear that the environmental impact from packaging to the vineyard reflects care. In addition, sales of this wine support a better life for the families of Akkedisberg.
MENTORSHIP, CAPITAL, AND PEOPLE WITH A WILL
The 37-year-old Josef Dreyer grew up on the farm Raka, studied at Elsenburg, and took over the winemaking from his father in 2007. From an early age, this award-winning winemaker experienced how his father adapted to the times, by replacing citrus on the farm with vineyards, building a cellar, and setting up an empowerment project in the fishing industry.
“I know the people,” says Dreyer about his Akkedisberg colleagues. “We work together and have a good relationship. That is why it was important to also create and establish an opportunity for them in agriculture.”
The Dreyers assisted Akkedisberg to apply to Vinpro in 2014 for a vineyard planting project as well as to invest capital in a fishing business. Their first vines were planted in 2015 – sangiovese, Pinotage, and malbec. At first, the grapes were sold to Raka, but by 2019, the members were keen to establish their own label.
According to Dreyer, the main aim of the project is to empower workers by transferring skills to them. “Nelson Mandela said that education is the most important tool with which to change the world. Raka has no stake in this project, we are two separate entities. I would not be able to afford such a project on my own. Capital is important, and that’s where the Western Cape as well as the national government come in, who gave most of the money, as well as the financial contribution, mentorship, and guidance that SAWITU provides. My contribution is my time and my love for our community. I can’t just sit back and think something is going to happen. But the most important requirement is someone who wants to drive the project themselves and take ownership of it. People like Mariëtte Moos and Christel Moses.”
FROM “STOKKIESDRAAI”, PICKING FLOWERS AND SELLING NAARTJIES TO DIRECTORSHIP
Mariëtte Moos (48), a director of Akkedisberg, grew up in the Boland and, so to speak, in the vineyard. Her husband, Andrew Moos, is Josef’s left and right hand in the cellar. The family has been living and working on Raka for two decades.
“I really love the vineyard,” says Moos, who did not finish high school but started working full-time in the vineyard in Wellington at the age of 16. On her life journey to her own vineyard, she worked on fynbos export farms in the Overberg, sold naartjies “next to the road” when her four children were small, and today, she still works in Raka’s vineyards.
Moos says she would never have dreamed that she could grow her own vineyard or launch her own wine. “Piet Dreyer and his son Josef encouraged us over many years to become part of an empowerment project and just never gave up,” says Moos. “The project and also the people I have met over the past eight years are very inspiring to me. Now I know that I can do something, not only for myself but also for the people around me. It’s really a good thing that the Dreyers have done.”
Moos is proud of her children who work on the farm, her two daughters who completed Matric, of whom one is completing a tourism course at Boland College. “This project is for all our workers. One day, if I can, I would like to create jobs too, especially for young people who have not finished school.”
GROWING AND LEARNING WITH THE PROJECT
Christel Moses (43) not only works in Raka’s tasting room, where she helps with administration, deliveries, and wine tastings, but she has also been a director of Akkedisberg since 2022.
Moses grew up on the farm Rietpoel near Riviersonderend and attended high school in Caledon. Although she did not complete Matric, she is computer literate and has received a farm worker award. Before joining Raka in 2015, she was employed at Springfontein Wine Estate where she received wine tasting and cellar training and completed Vinpro’s SKOP course. She lives in Stanford with her mother and her 17-year-old daughter.
“I learn something every day,” explains Moses. “It’s wonderful how Raka’s owners have done everything in their power to support us. Piet Dreyer, who felt he wanted to walk this path with his workers, and Josef, who as winemaker and mentor works hand in hand with us and assists us with financial advice.”
Moses also singles out the role of SAWITU. “If it weren’t for Wendy Petersen, SAWITU, and the government, we would not have reached this point. We, as workers, feel proud to have been chosen by SAWITU for this project. The funds are used for our vineyards, which include everything from the purchase of vines and poles, planting, spraying, water and electricity, tractors, fuel, and more, as well as for our wine, from the bottles to labels and marketing material.”
According to Moses, all 20 workers on the farm are involved and it is important that everyone’s input is considered. “Be patient,” is her first advice to people who dream of similar projects. “Do what the employer asks you to do. Listen. Don’t be stubborn. Be prepared to be helped, and then you might get an opportunity. If you give your best, they will try to help from their side. If you put your heart into it, and if you believe in yourself, I believe you will come out on top.”
INVEST IN A RARE TREASURE
Moses is excited now that their product is on the shelves where everyone can see it. “This wine is something a little different, a Pinotage, but not necessarily with the flavour profile that people are used to,” she explains. “Even people who don’t like Pinotage but taste it because I encourage them, say afterwards that I was right.”
Only a limited number of 5033 bottles of the Southern Treasure Pinotage 2021 have been released. It can be bought for R300 at Raka Wine Estate between Caledon and Stanford. “Southeast of Hermanus, just a ‘short’ distance from Stellenbosch,” as Piet Dreyer says tongue in cheek.
“Come and experience the northern-most point of the southern-most mountain range in Africa,” invites Josef Dreyer. “The Klein River is popularly known as the longest river in the world whose source and mouth are the closest to each other, a distance of 90 km of meandering, but only 3.3 km as the crow flies.”