It felt unfair to tease you with two pages of notes on diversity, and then barely mention one of the points. Look, I’m just really bad at public speaking! Let’s hope that I’m slightly better at writing (grammar not included).
TLDR down at the bottom.
I am a consumer and do not work in the wine industry. I’m trying to learn as much as I can, so my thoughts will always be from the consumer’s point of view. The consumer IS related to the industry. In one of our very first conversations, Cassidy used the analogy of rugby (which nearly flew over my head because…well…sports…sigh): by seeing more people, who look like you, excelling in their field, it invites you to participate and believe that you, too, could be a part of it.
Do me a favour and hold the following numbers in your head as you read through this:
SA has a population of 58,78 million. 92.1% are people of colour. [2019 mid-year figure from Statistics South Africa]
There are 2 693 grape producers [SAWIS 2020] but I imagine that not everyone owns their land. 3% black owned wine farms is the number that’s stuck with me after listening to talks about diversity, but another quote I’ve read is that “According to VinPro, of the more than 2,800 wine farmers in South Africa, only 60 of them are Black. Less than 2% of them own their own land.”
We can’t undo our history, but we can acknowledge what happened to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes again AND that we don’t perpetuate what was set in place by others.
Acknowledgement is a big and scary step. It’s hard to efficiently plan for the future if you’re spending so much time and energy defending and hiding your past.
Start by acknowledging the land and its original inhabitants. Between the soil composition, sunlight exposure and rainfall…don’t you kind of want to know who walked your lands (or didn’t walk your lands) before your vines were planted? Ja, it requires homework – thank goodness for historians.
- I know that you can fit one beautifully written paragraph under your logo on the cover of your wine list.
- How long have those trees been growing on your beautiful property – how about a bench under the tree with a contemplative remembrance plaque.
- Commission a few works of art from POC artists.
- Or, with a few clicks of a button and a flutter of the keys, update your website. Whether your farm history is linked to the Khoisan or not…I challenge every single winery to at least make mention of the contribution that slaves made to the wine industry.
A large part of me believes that one of the most obvious ways to connect with the black market is to show us that we are part of the story. There’s a way to tell the ugly parts with care, empathy and humility. And should we not all celebrate the triumphs and overcomings of unimaginable conditions.
Wine educators – join in.
- Rewrite your introductory paragraph to SA wine to include the contributions that slaves made to the SA wine industry. We can talk about Jan van Riebeek, Simon van der Stel AND Zwarte Maria Everts.
- Organise a standalone talk where the fuller and richer history is discussed, along with how we’re working to make wine more inclusive…worldwide.
There is plenty of research and documentation to support and validate the ‘stories’. Start the story in the right way so that we can continue the story in the right way. I can’t speak for everyone – maybe your material already makes mention of slaves contributions to the wine industry – but WSET, I’ve seen your material and you could do better. (While we’re at it ‘first colonised by Portuguese merchants and their labourers…’? You can do better!)
There is more to our story than ‘“Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes.”
- One more thing: English is not everyone’s home language. I was horrified that people who worked in the wine industry and who knew way more about wine than I did failed their WSET Level 2 exam. Consider encouraging students to interact with and help each other, consider having multilingual tutors. You’ve got to start with making sure that everyone understands, even if the final exam is written in English. [UPDATE: My WSET course provider has confirmed that they do offer additional support from qualified lecturers, as well as encourage students to connect and support each other.]
The Value Chain
The idea of being a winemaker or owning a wine farm is romantic. It’s great to talk about successful black winemakers and black farm owners…and to lament over the diversity of these very public faces to the wine world. There are also many other cogs that are needed to turn the wine wheel. And there is room for ownership and diversity within each of these supporting sectors.
Let’s start at the end – distribution. You can make as many products as you want, but you need to know that your product will be distributed.
- Is there enough POC representation within distribution channels to ensure that black owned brands are equally marketed?
Wine export, specialist transportation, storage facilities, box manufacturers, bottle manufacturing, mobile bottling lines, label printers, label designers, chemical suppliers (don’t @ me, you know they’re necessary), laboratories, seasonal picking teams, vineyard managers, soil scientist, and the list goes on and on.
- They all contribute to the wine industry, and within each of these specialities there is room for black ownership.
A few things that are often raised in discussions about how far SA has progressed are the number of black owned brands (60), the Vinpro board being 28.4% black controlled, Wine of Origin being 60% black, Winetech having a black CEO, the Wine Industry Transformation Unit being 80% black-controlled with a black ops manager, Elsenberg college having 20% black students, and that half of the 203 members of the sommeliers association of South Africa are people of colour.
These were sent to me as reference to the Insta Live chat. I had previously read the Jancis Robinson piece when it was released…and raised my eyebrows at the positivity that oozed from this article. I tend to agree with Michael Fridjhon.
This is all very positive, but I can’t help but remind you of the numbers in South Africa. How many of the sommeliers are empowered to make key decisions? How many of the Wine of Origin team are in leadership roles? How many of the Elsenberg students will be given the opportunity to one day become cellar masters…how many of them will find employment?
These are all positive numbers, but we should keep an eye on where this leads. Remember that thing called Talent Management…the catchphrase HR adopted a few years ago…the thing that we all knew was just common sense?
- When you ‘offer an opportunity’, make sure you have a development plan to truly make it an opportunity.
The same goes for training. Invest in your staff.
- Offer trainings and certifications because it benefits both the company and the employees. But make sure you also reward their achievements. Promotions, management positions, financial reward.
One of the nicest analogies I’ve heard is: it’s nice to be invited to your party, but only until you’ve asked me to dance will I feel like I belong.
R20 /hr is the minimum wage in South Africa. If you’re as bad as I am at mental maths, I’ll give you a minute to calculate your expenses. I didn’t even get through the week. I know that budgets are tight, but I’d challenge you to consider what is a fair living wage for a human being living in South Africa.
There’s a reason why I expect companies to invest in educating their staff. It’s because R21,50 an hour doesn’t leave any room for savings…let alone saving for further education.
- Wouldn’t it be nicer if we all earned enough to be able to budget for our own self sufficiency and self improvement. Pay people fairly.
I’ve touched on having better representation along the value chain. There’s also the matter of representation when it comes to decision making and talking about the industry.
- Is your board diverse? Is your management team diverse?
This isn’t just within the immediate wine industry, but also at a governmental and legislative level.
- Do we have younger people representing the interests of their future? Are all the genders present? Is you committee, panel, or board representative of South Africa?
Think about representation during panel discussions – are they diverse and are they able to speak for South Africa?
There are more people of colour in the wine industry than you’d think – they’re knowledgeable and informed and able to contribute to discussions that they should be part of.
People of colour have been having this conversation amongst ourselves for many, many years. 2020 was a big year…big news…big changes…so much awareness…if you aren’t a POC.
To an extent we, ourselves, are also to blame for not wanting to engage in these conversations with our white colleagues. It’s really great that people seem prepared to have discussions about equality and diversity…if everyone is listening. I spend a lot of time watching, listening, and reading. I don’t work in the wine industry, so I learn by observing. How do you learn?
- Keep the conversation going with friends and colleagues – and that way we’ll keep ourselves accountable.
- Our personal conversations in my friend group can get heated as we have enormous respect for everyone’s cultures and intellect. I’m not suggesting you mimic our shouting matches (the only way you’ll be heard over the 4 simultaneous debates we’re all having). The key lies with having respect for the other persons point of view. You might disagree, but you have to listen before you can argue your point. Sometimes it’s nonsense…and sometimes it’s dangerous to allow someone to keep talking…so you have to start with respect for the other person’s history, experiences and feelings.
- Talk to your neighbours at wine tastings – you already have wine in common
- Share a bottle of wine from a black producer and start a conversation about it.
- Join in on Zoom discussions, and live events where you know there will be a diverse crowd of people.
The Land Ownership
I don’t want your land. Also, we’re not ready to talk about the intricacies of how we’d navigate this.
- But maybe future proof yourself…start thinking about ways to include your staff and share in the wealth and ownership of the land that you both rely on.
We all come from different backgrounds. Some more privileged than others. You have to understand that being born white instantly granted you more privilege. It’s not your fault…you didn’t ask society to treat you differently. But you can be aware and grateful that you have more opportunity.
We don’t all have father’s who can call their friend to grant an internship. We don’t all have surnames linked to Stellenbosch wine legacy. We don’t all go to schools with old boys clubs that will open doors to us and offer us ‘peppercorn’ properties. We just don’t have the same connections.
- You could help open doors for individuals who show passion, interest and drive.
- You could help by inviting us to participate.
The Bottom Line
‘be lekker’, ‘we’re all equal’, ‘don’t be a doos’.
- If you work in the wine industry be polite, warm, and friendly. Greet! Nod…or smile if you’re a smiley person .
It’s intimidating walking into tasting rooms, wine stores, venues, events, etc. I’m not always sure if ‘How can I help you?’ means ‘hey, welcome…I’m here if you need me’ or whether it means ‘what are you doing here?’. I have stories…so many stories! Don’t be the person whose arrogance and elitism ruins the experience for half of the room. Yes, you…you and your elite group who have positioned yourselves at the head of the table.
- If you’re a consumer…it’s your money and your time. Make good choices. Make informed choices.
- If there’s only one thing I could pass along to everyone, it’s to know where you wine comes from. Is it made by a good person, a farm that treats their staff well, a brand that gives back to society/nature/community. Drink whatever you want to drink…but understand where it comes from. You should find that you’ll be more conscious of where your money is spent.
92%. 3%. We can do better.
History – acknowledge it without excuse
Wine Education – update the history
Value Chain – we should have POC ownership across the value chain
Opportunity – ensure that opportunity includes development into leadership roles
Remuneration – could you survive off of R21,50?
Representation – age, race, gender…our voices and faces should be diverse
Discourse – let’s keep the conversation flowing…respectfully
Land – future proof yourself in an inclusive way
Legacy – understand that it is different