Climate Change is likely to lead to increased temperatures in the Western Cape wine regions by 2050, and can affect wine production, said Dr Wilmot James at a lecture he gave as part of the 2011 Darwin Seminars, which were jointly hosted by UCT’s Division of Human Genetics and the African Genome Educational Institute in November. The lecture preceded the recent COP17 Climate Change Conference 2011 held in Durban.
An edited extract of the lecture appeared in the Cape Argus two weeks ago with the title ‘Will warming yield grapes of wrath?’. It stated that temperatures at the coast are estimated to increase by 1,5°C and by 2-3°C inland by 2050. Dr James asked what effect these climate changes will have: “How will this affect viticulture? Vines are hardy and produce better fruit when made to struggle. But how much struggle can they take?” He writes that as a region gets hotter, there is less opportunity to make different styles and types of wine. In the Winelands, there still is the opportunity to develop new vineyards in more temperate and cooler regions, to change viticultural and oenological practices, and to change wine styles, to counter the temperature rise.
According to research conducted by Dr Suzanne Carter, an environmental and geographical scientist at UCT, the following climate change trends can impact on wine production:
* rainfall will reduce, yet Dr James writes that many farms do not use the full potential of irrigation on their farms. However, the use of more water will lead to increased cost of production, and may not always be in sufficient supply in times of drought;
* the length of time between rainy days has been growing over the past 50 years, which means that more rain evaporates than is retained in the soil;
* heavy rains and floods are not ideal, as too much water is lost, and can ruin crops;
* higher temperatures have led to better quality wines, but in certain hotter regions this benefit is lost if the grapes ripen too early;
* a greater concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere creates larger fruit and yields, and improves the water efficiency in vines, but can lead to high sugar levels that can change the flavour and quality of the wines produced.
Dr James does not provide any solutions to the wine industry as to how to counter these effects of Climate Change on wine production.
Dr James was a co-author, with Professor Jakes Gerwel and Jeanne Viall, of the book ‘Grape: Stories of the Vineyards of South Africa’, which focused on the history of the Winelands, highlighted the treatment of staff on some farms, and told stories of winemakers, their workers, exporters, and grape farmers.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
A controversial and damaging 96-page report, entitled ‘Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Farm Industries’, and published by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, has been widely written about by international media in the past 24 hours, and has been met by a strongly worded media release by Wines of South Africa (WOSA), representing the wine industry. The report implicates the tourism industry too, benefiting from wine tourism.
Sounding like a far more potent finger-pointing at the wine industry than the recently launched South African book ‘Grape’, co-authored by Dr Wilmot James, Professor Jakes Gerwel, and Jeanne Viall, the Human Rights Watch report describes less than acceptable conditions on fruit and wine farms. WOSA challenges the report on behalf of the wine industry, in that the selection of the more than 260 respondents for the report is not specified, nor have the interviews conducted over the last two years been ‘independently verified’, nor did the organisation seek a response from the farm owners whose workers were interviewed. WOSA CEO Su Birch writes:”The study relies on anecdotal evidence that uses the cover of respondent protection to avoid substantiating the claims it makes.” She added that the international media release to announce the report was not balanced in its presentation of information about conditions in the wine industry, making it misleading.
The media release of the Human Rights watch, entitled ‘South Africa: Farmworkers’ Dismal, Dangerous Lives’, blames the wine industry for denying their staff ‘adequate housing, proper safety equipment, and basic labor rights’, and calls on the South African government to ‘take immediate steps to improve their working and housing conditions’. More specifically, the report highlights ‘on-site housing that is is unfit for living, exposure to pesticides without proper safety equipment, lack of access to toilets or drinking water while working, and efforts to block workers from forming unions. While the Western Cape’s fruit and wine industries contribute billions of rand to the country’s economy, support tourism, and are enjoyed by consumers around the world, their farmworkers earn among the lowest wages in South Africa. The report also describes insecure tenure rights and threats of eviction for longtime residents on farms. The wealth and well-being these workers produce shouldn’t be rooted in human misery’, said Human Rights Watch Africa Director Daniel Bekele. It points a finger at the South African government in the main, in not monitoring conditions of workers, and in not enforcing labour laws. Only 3% of the local wine workers are unionised, the report says, and there were only 107 labour inspectors to investigate 6000 farms in March this year. The damaging report has been widely written about in the international press, including The Telegraph, The Guardian, Montreal Gazette, AFP, Times of Oman, as well as broadcast on BBC.
Mrs Birch added that the report did not write much about the good work which the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association and Fairtrade are doing, and about the wine farms with empowerment deals. “With positive examples of the progress made in redressing past wrongs rendered virtually inaccessible to all but the most serious readers, the report negates the work of those who should be allowed to stand out as role models to their peers”, says Mrs Birch. The Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association has more than eighty farms audited by the Wine Supply Chain Support Programme, and many of the members of the Association are writing compliance requirements into supplier contracts. In addition, training is being done about workers’ rights amongst both farm managers as well as their workers, in addition to a training programme ‘addressing discrimination and sexual harrassment’, writes WOSA. The largest number of Fairtrade wine producers worldwide are in South Africa.
WOSA’s response to the complaint relating to lack of protection for workers spraying pesticides is that clear guidelines for the use of pesticides and worker protection are specified in the Integrated Production of Wine protocol, and is regularly and independently monitored. Should producers fail to meet the guidelines in this regard, they could lose their accreditation, and therefore their ability to export their wines.
Housing conditions are also addressed in the Human Rights Watch Report. WOSA acknowledges weaknesses, but states that 200000 workers are housed on wine farms, and quotes Charles Back of Fairview questioning whether any other South African industry provides housing to the extent that the wine industry does. Responsible Alcohol Use, anti-alcohol abuse, and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome programmes are funded by the wine industry.
Neil Pendock, wine writer for the Sunday Times, is not known for his support of WOSA. Whilst not writing in its support specifically, he urged the Johannesburg correspondent of The Telegraph yesterday to observe how advanced Solms-Delta in Franschhoek is in its relationship with its workers.
Mrs Birch concluded by saying that the damaging report affects a South African wine industry already struggling with sales due to the strong Rand and the global downturn, and thereby affecting the jobs of the farmworkers even more. She states strongly:”Let me make it very clear: we condemn out of hand any and all human rights abuses on wine farms. Our disappointment in the bias in the report is in no way an indication of our support for inhumane practices. It expresses our concern that trade and consumers all over the world could become alienated from South African wines. We call on Government to partner the wine industry in accelerating reform and in rooting out problems”. The Human Rights Watch media release ends off on a positive note for the wine industry: ‘The answer is not to boycott South African products, because that could be disastrous for farmworkers. But we are asking retailers (in the UK, Netherlands, Germany, USA, other European countries, and Canada) to press their suppliers to ensure that there are decent conditions on the farms that produce the products they buy and sell to their customers’, urged Bekele.
POSTSCRIPT: 31/8:The Western Cape provincial government has threatened Human Rights Watch with legal action for its defamatory report about the alleged abuse of farmworkers on wine and grape farms in the province, which may result in loss of income for local farms, reported the Cape Times yesterday. The report states that the MEC for Agricultural Sector and Rural Development, Gerrit van Rensburg, has requested details of alleged transgressions from Human Rights Watch, but these have not been forthcoming from the organisation. COSATU trade union federation and the Black Association of the Agricultural Sector has supported the Human Rights Watch Report.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
A book just published, entitled ‘Grape’, and sub-titled ‘Stories of the Vineyards in South Africa’, covering the history of wine and grape farming in the period 1652 – 2011, is certain to cause discomfort to the wine and table grape industry, in its accusation that there is much room for improvement in the way this industry treats its staff, despite many changes over time, especially since 1994. The industry is asked to get its house in order, in being ethical in the treatment of its staff. The book concludes that the future of the wine and table grape industry is a depressing one, and one that can be to the disadvantage of those workers it aims to uplift.
A large part of the blame must be placed at the door of the Department of Labour, which does not appear to be doing its job properly in regulating working conditions for farm workers, said ‘Grape’ co-author Dr Wilmot James, a member of Parliament for the Democratic Alliance, addressing the Franschhoek Literary Festival about his book on Sunday. Written with Professor Jakes Gerwel, Chancellor of Rhodes University, and freelance journalist Jeanne Viall, the book paints the picture of the history of labour on grape and wine farms since 1652.
In hearing Dr James speak, it felt as if he has a chip on his shoulder, as he told the audience that the book’s initial focus was the abuse of ‘Coloureds’ by the wine industry, but as he was told that this was a racist approach, and he could not define exactly what this racial label means, he and his co-authors decided to broaden the focus of the book to include all workers in the industry. The book kicks off with a “Note on terminology”, and in it is written “it is questionable whether one can speak of the coloured people at all. In this essentially residual category are to be found people of the most diverse descent”, including slaves from Indonesia, the San (Bushmen) and Khoikhoi.
The book documents the stories of workers on grape farms, “which is the story of South Africa, mostly that of the Gariep/Orange River area and the Western Cape”. The book continues: “The history of workers on grape farms is a sad one; indeed, the history of farm workers in South Africa in general, and also elsewhere in the world, is often one of hardship. But the ‘dop’ system, and its ongoing effects over many generations, adds another dimension to disempowered and marginalised grape farm communities.” It likens the history of our wine industry to that written about by John Steinbeck in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, first published in 1939.
The first vines were planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655, and four years later the first wine was produced in Wynberg – Van Riebeeck wrote: “Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes… mostly Muscadel and other white, round grapes, very fragrant and tasty”.
South Africa is predominantly a beer drinking nation, the book states, with 65% of the population drinking this beverage, as opposed to only 15 % drinking wine. In 2009, 1089 million litres of wine, brandy and grape juice were produced. Of the total of 125000 hectares planted under vines, 81 % was used for wine production and the balance for table grapes in 2009. The number of grape farm workers is estimated at 30000 – 50000 permanent staff, and ‘many thousands’ of seasonal workers. Half of the 396 million liters of wine that was produced in 2009 was exported.
The book tells the stories of interesting wine personalities:
* Mohammed Karaan, now Dean of AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University, is quoted as saying:”The wine industry takes money. It is squandered on image and ego, these are not good values, the downside of the industry is that it destroys human capital, along with its stepbrother, the fruit industry. I used to be astounded at how fellow students justified the ‘dop’ system. And now they are saying that wine is good for the heart… All politicians have a romanticism around wine, they’re intoxicated with wine. They were going to legislate against ‘papsakke’. Nothing happened.”
* Spatz Sperling of Delheim was one of the driving forces in wine marketing, and the legal constraints of wine-selling locally and to overseas markets led to his pioneering marketing, often more for the benefit of the industry than for his own brand
* Michael Back, owner of Backsberg, is the first wine farm to become carbon-neutral in South Africa, and is the third in the world
* Professor Mark Solms, whose aim is to not lose money with his farm Solms-Delta: “Wine is not the way to make money quickly; my long-term view is that what will make it truly sustainable is doing it excellently”. He added: “Only by delving into the social history of the farm could I properly understand it. What needed to be done was to understand the nature of the problem in order to change it. I found things I wouldn’t have anticipated: people had no hope, no sense of the future. They were at best fatalistic, and most were clinically depressed”. The Solms-Delta Oesfees is written about in the book, as is the trust in which the farmworkers have ownership, with owners Mark Solms and Richard Astor.
Interesting wine industry facts are spread throughout the book:
* Constantia wines were acclaimed, and Vin Constance was enjoyed by royalty, including King Frederick the Great of Prussia, King George IV, King Louis-Philippe, and Napeolean Bonaparte, amongst others.
* Muratie’s first owners, when the farm was named ‘De Driesprong’, were Lourens Campher and the freed slave Ansela van de Caab, and was handed to them by Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1699.
* Evidence of a Stone Age civilisation from 4000 – 6000 years ago was found when renovation work was done at Solms-Delta, after Mark Solms bought the farm in 2002.
* One needs at least R25 million to buy a farm, and ‘the margins are paper thin for growing grapes for basic wine”, Professor Joachim Ewert from Stellenbosch University is quoted as saying. He says it takes three generations to make money on a wine farm. Added to this, is that many foreign owners have bought wine farms, for ‘status and the snob value of your own wine label…’. One of the main findings of the book, the writers state, “…has been a revelation to find that not only have wine farmers always struggled to survive, but that still today wine farming is marginal.”
* Wine farms are not always well-known for their wines, but often more for their owners, e.g. Jan Boland Coetzee, the rugby player who makes wine at Vriesenhof; Beyers Truter who has become known as ‘Mr Pinotage’, of Beyerskloof; Dr Paul Cluver is a brain surgeon; Professor Mark Solms is a neurologist.
* Good ‘table wine’ has only been produced in the past 15 years, WOSA CEO Su Birch is quoted as saying, with only Meerlust, Delheim and Kanonkop known to make good wines before this time.
* The Stellenbosch Wine Route was the first route to open, in 1972, and was the brainchild of Spatz Sperling of Delheim, Frans Malan of Simonsig, and Neil Joubert of Spier, the first of now 15 wine routes in the country.
* Spatz Sperling of Delheim, Frans Malan from Simonsig, and Sydney Back of Backsberg got the Wine of Origin wine certification system established
* Distell’s Nederburg, JC le Roux and Graça, as well as Van Loveren’s Four Cousins, sell well in our ‘emerging markets’ (a nice way to say ‘township’), the book states, and Nederburg Baronne in particular is known in Soweto as the ‘Coca Cola wine’.
* The ‘dop’ system is not South African in origin, and was probably introduced by the French Huguenots
* South African wine production appears least likely to be affected by climate change, most wine-producing areas, other than the Northern Cape, having the lowest average increase in temperature of all wine-producing regions in the world. Yet more costly water and climate change will influence berry ripening, and will lead to earlier harvests and to different wine styles being produced.
* Wines were sold in supermarkets in 1966 for the first time.
* ‘Black-owned’ wine farms include Constantia Uitsig, Bloemendal and D’Aria (Tokyo Sexwale having a part ownership) and Sexwale’s fully owned Oude Kelder in Franschhoek; Paardenkloof owned by Valli Moosa; and M’Hudi Wines, owned by the Rangaka family.
* Empowerment schemes for grape farm workers include Malmaison near Groblershoop; Beyerskloof; Naftali Estate at Dyasonsklip; black consortia own shares in Distell and the KWV; ‘empowerment’ wine brands include Epicurean Wines, Ses’fikile; LaThiThá Wines; and Thabani.
‘Grape’ moves backwards and forwards in time in presenting an overview of far more than the labour on grape farms, and this is its weakness. It has so much material to cover that the book loses focus in the presentation of its wealth of information. Making so much in its build up of the exploitation of mainly ‘Coloured’ farm workers on such farms, as well as the production of ‘cheap wines’ to target this population group, it is a surprise when the book’s “Last Word” paints a depressing future for the industry, which “is facing incredibly tough times”, ”soaring production costs”, “poor return on their product”, a “changing climate”, and a “strong rand”. “Very few farmers are making a profit; many wine farms are on the market”. Given this scenario of a challenging future, one gets the feeling that the authors backed off their initial tough stance, as all these challenges that the industry faces will affect the workers on these farms, as well as their livelihoods. For the wine and table grape industry currently survival is a greater priority than its continued transformation!
Jeanne Viall, Wilmot James & Jakes Gerwel: ‘Grape – Stories of the Vineyards in South Africa’. Tafelberg. 2011. www.tafelberg.com
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage