The problems of the past
When Nelson Mandela walked free in 1990, after 27 years imprisonment, this was seen by the world as the beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa. In 1993 it was agreed that the first free elections would take place and they did so in May, 1994.
This meant so much to so many people; but this was a country that had been all but cut off both financially and commercially for so many years. Industry in South Africa had been stunted by its inability to export, and the wine industry had suffered more than most. It had only been allowed to grow wine for its own market. After 1994, the world opened up and the wine industry had to try and play catch up quickly.
The beginnings of new growth
Just like the old vines that grew in the vineyards around the wine region, new growth was desperately needed. The lack of investment, new technology and new vines all needed to be addressed and quickly.
Forward thinking South Africans like Korbus Basson, wine farm owner of Klein Zalze Wines, realized that the winemaking industry had fallen so far behind the rest of the world that an urgency was needed to bring it up to-date or it would die along with the old vines that were in his vineyard.
He flew around the world exploring the vineyards of the old and new world wines to take back to South Africa, bringing the best vines and technology from both.
Prior to heading off to the Cape Winelands, am enjoying some lovely SA drops from my cellar, including this beauty from Klein Zalze pic.twitter.com/7NhSiAkZh7— Luxury Wine Trails (@luxwinetrails) November 19, 2016
The next generation
The winemaker we began following in part two of this series, Alastair Rimmer, also began his journey as a wine maker in the time of the new South Africa. Still full of hope, but having had a false start when his internship to the U.S. was stymied by the 9/11 terror attack, he took a position at home. He spent two years, and a very quick learning curve, working in the Franschhoek Valley. This is one of the most beautiful and productive wine making regions. It has some very old connections to the French vineyards and their old world style of making wine.
However, Alastair knew that he must travel further afield to learn the art of being a winemaker. New vines and technologies beckoned in New Zealand and Australia. South Africa needed to be able to compete on even terms with the other new world wine producers and at this stage in its history it couldn’t do that.
Once he started his travels, he went on from the Antipodes to Spain and then finally to California in the U.S.
Meanwhile, South Africa was in trouble
Fifteen years into its rebirth, South Africa was into its third President, Jacob Zumba. Elected in 2009, he began a regime of corruption and state capture. The country sank, slowing into hyper inflation. Poverty and mass unemployment became rampant.
The poorest group was young black individuals between the ages of 16 and 35. Not only were they uneducated but unemployable as well. The country, which seems to have made it through the transition from apartheid to freedom was now drowning in debt and abject poverty.
When hope returns
When Alastair Rimmer returned to South Africa in 2013 , armed with new ideas and full of inspiration from his travel experiences in Europe and the U.S., South Africa was at its lowest ebb since the end of apartheid.
Unemployment in the 18- 35 age group was upward of 35 percent and the rand (South African currency) was in free fall against foreign currencies, losing nearly 30 percent of it value due to political mismanagement.
Alastair joined the Darling Cellars group and quickly proved his worth, bringing the old and mellow cellar up-to-date both in its methods and its style of wines. His attempts to upscale and upmarket this vineyard between 2013 – 2015 were very successful. Awards and accolades for the winery and his winemaking came his way. He battled with the old ideas and the attitudes of the growers in that region and slowly got them onside.
The return of better times
Whilst he was celebrating one of his successes, Alastair took a telephone call. This call was to start the beginning of a journey, which speaks as much of his future as it does for the future of many of the poorer black people who have started their own journey alongside him.
The call was from Korbus Basson asking him to come for a chat and ultimately offering him the job of a lifetime as head winemaker at Klein Zalze.
The head winemaker at the time Johan Joubert was retiring and Alastair’s reputation and experience overseas put him in prime position to replace him.
Taking the biggest risk of his life, he handed his notice in at the Darling Cellars. On a handshake from Korbus, his future awaited him. Alastair has never regretted that trust to this day.
South African wine heralds the start of something great
Korbus Basson had slowly been building up his winery. One of the parts he held great store in was his workforce. He employed as many local black youth as he could. He gave them transportation to work, helped start a crèche, and built up a school for their children. He gave them healthcare and helped with their families. He was a man who understood that he needed the workforce to work with him not for him. His efforts to help his workforce had begun over 20 years earlier and are still progressing in 2019.
Joining the “Fair Trade” principle and paying a premium on each bottle sold, he began to really make a difference to the people around him.
Alastair followed that principle and has continued to build up a loyal and valuable workforce. Many young workers joined their fathers and uncles in the business. This helped individuals, their families, and South Africa as a whole. As a recent Forbes article about South Africa’s wine industry put it, “More money in the pockets of growers translates to an immediate economic impact.”
The hard work over the last few years by this extraordinary wine maker and owner have paid off handsomely.
Alistair’s wines have been recognised and applauded around the world.
To name but some:
Veritas Wine Awards – 1 double gold, 4 golds, 7 silver and 2 bronze awards in 2018
Michelangelo International Awards – 3 gold and 3 silver 2018
International Wine and Spirit Competition – 1 gold and 11 silver
The list goes on, but these awards are not just Alastair’s they are shared by all of those at Kleine Zalze wines. The lives of many in the poorest groups in South Africa have been enriched beyond their wildest dreams. Those dreams began with just being free. But now they can also provide a home, food and an education for their families. They now have a future just as they were promised, that future has been provided by people with vision and the will to give it to them