Real people making a real difference 14-Nov-2008 A recent visit to South Africa's southernmost wine-producing region proved enlightening and inspiring. The newly formed Elim Winegrowers is a group of very switched on individuals, determined to make their mark on the global wine scene while nurturing their unique natural and cultural heritage. Sara de Villiers had the pleasure of meeting this upbeat and, at times, offbeat clan.
The Elim wine ward in the coastal Agulhas district
may not feature as highly on the tourist hit list as, say Constantia or Stellenbosch - yet. In fact an anagram of the word Elim is 'mile', an apt descriptor for the many miles you travel to reach this somewhat desolate enclave. But in reality it's only a stone's throw from that bustling tourist mecca, Hermanus, and well worth the journey. I found this out first hand at a sumptuous seafood feast and braai hosted recently by the members of the Elim Winegrowers to introduce their wines
and region to foreign journalists out for Cape Wine 2006.
The Elim Winegrowers consists of The Berrio
(Bruce Jack and Francis Pratt
), Black Oystercatcher Wines (Dirk Human and family), Zoetendal Wines (Willem Loots and Johan de Kock) and Agulhas Wines, First Sighting (Conrad Vlok). Each producer contributes a unique style and flair to the project and is dedicated to their slogan "real people, real wines". If you've experienced the authenticity of their hospitality, generosity and infectious spirit, there can be no doubt they're succeeding in their mission.
Wow, not only did the wines blow me away (much like the howling gale which raged outside the cosy Zoetendal tasting room), but I have never experienced such amazing seafood (the oysters from this coastline are mammoth). "Freshly caught and prepared by us all, even the kids helped," said a proud Sandra Human of Black Oystercatcher Wines.
What stood out for me was the unbounded joy and satisfaction these members derive from their beautiful and bountiful surroundings. Throughout the lunch a slide show depicted scenes from their daily activities. From the floods a few years back which threatened to wash all their hard work away, to photos of the youngsters growing up to appreciate nature, as all kids should. The Elim team knows they're custodians of something special and to this end they're doing a jolly good job at conserving and protecting the unique bio-diversity
of the area's fragile fauna and flora.
They have incorporated their farms into the Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area Initiative, established to encourage a sustainable ecology in harmony with farming activities in the Nuwejaars Wetland Ecosystem. Spanning 21 468 hectares, this ambitious project is aimed not only at conservation (some of the endemic species are listed on the Red Data endangered list), but also at encouraging community lifestyles compatible with environmental sustainability.
This diversity of geological and climatic conditions creates many winemaking challenges. But the sum of the parts combine to produce a unique environment, ideally suited to making wine. The area's strongest selling point is its consistently cool conditions (a lot of wind).
"Very few areas in the world have the spectacular combination of Elim's climate, wind and soils. If you can overcome all the challenges and harness the opportunities the results are euphoric," explains Flagstone and The Berrio's Bruce Jack. "It makes for built-in complexity in the wines. If God had to write a recipe for wine growing
, this is what He'd write!" suggests Bruce.
In fact wine played a significant role in the early history of Elim
. Founded by the Moravian missionaries in 1824, this hamlet planted its first vineyards more than 100 years ago to supply the church with sacramental wine. It appears wine production is set to rejuvenate this rather impoverished community, where unemployment is rife.
The Elim Mission Vineyards Project is the working title of a large-scale BEE venture between the Elim Community and a group of well known wine individuals, aimed at constructing a 2000-ton cellar adjacent to the town of Elim.
Thus far all the necessary studies into the feasibility of the project have been completed but its touch and go, as the team needs to raise R100 million in the next few months - no easy task given the long-term nature of the project. The Moravian Church, to whom the land belongs, has given its blessing and the project is supported by the South African Wine Industry Trust
Not only will members of the Elim community become stakeholders in the cellar, it promises to provide essential skills and training, moulding youngsters to take over the reins as winemakers, viticulturists and wine marketers. The project is also intended to provide a much-needed boost for the tourism and hospitality industries in the area. Already 85 employment opportunities have been identified.
The Elim Mission Vineyards Project is a groundbreaking collaborative venture, both in terms of scale and furthering transformation in the South African wine industry.
May this daring dream become a reality.
For more information on the Elim Winegrowers contact:
Agulhus Wines: 028 482 1902
Black Oystercatcher Wines: 028 482 1618
Flagstone Winery/The Berrio Wines: 021 852 5052
Zoetendal Wines: 028 482 1717
Sara de Villiers | wine.co.za