The atrocities that women face in their daily lives especially in the world of work have been well documented. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in 2014, Africa ‘lost’ up to $105 billion from gender gaps in labour markets alone, almost 6% of all production.
From sexual harassment, intimidation, to sheer humiliation, the barriers to achieving notable success by women in almost all fields especially in my part of the world are a lot.
It didn’t quite hit me until a lady called into my place of work (Citi FM) and reported through sobs how she was told to focus on marriage instead of chasing a scholarship opportunity outside of Ghana. There and then I realized that as much as I tried, I couldn’t understand the pain and the sense of loss she felt.
So the question for me is, are the relevant stakeholders doing enough to level the playing field. I doubt we’re quite there yet.
It, therefore, is very refreshing when I reflect back on a trip I took to the wine lands of South Africa (a few weeks prior to the phone call from the lady) and the inspiring role that many women were playing in the wine industry in that country.
Sponsored by SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS, WINES OF SOUTH AFRICA, and JON WILLIAMS CONSULT, the whole trip to the Western Cape for everything wines, from the Wines of South Africa Sommelier Cup Finals, to actual visits to vineyards and factories, was a once in a lifetime experience for me.
“Well put together” will not even begin to describe the experience I had. What I can say is that it was otherworldly. My other article from this very trip which you can find here focuses on how South Africa is selling more than just wine to the rest of the world.
In this piece I want to put the spotlight on some of the women I saw, the role they play in the wine value chain and how I think they are serving as examples of resilience, excellence, fun and tenacity (I see you Saskia), and simply as walking highlights of inspiration to young African women and men alike.
Saskia Lesch – Overhex Wines International
It felt like visiting an old relative. As the Sales Manager for the Africa region for her company, Saskia Lesch took us on one of the most exciting wine tasting journeys during our Wines of South Africa (@WOSA_ZA) experience.
Think of different flavored popcorn being matched with different varieties of their three core brands (Balance, Mensa and Survivor). She mixed relentless enthusiasm for wine and a desire to see more exciting things being done to promote South African and African wine to the rest of the world.
And she fits right in with a company (founded in 2007), which strives to incorporate uniqueness and excellence in all that they do. From humble beginnings, the Overhex Group has grown from strength to strength and is now proudly the eighth largest exporter of South African wines.
Rosemary Mosia – The Bridge Of Hope Wines
The drive of this woman, Rosemary Mosia, is like nothing I’ve seen before. She basically flew in from Johannesburg for a 30-minute interaction with the media from Ghana. Now if that does not drive then I don’t know what is. I was inspired by her story and young women who get an opportunity to learn from her should milk the opportunity.
The Bridge of Hope Wines which she spearheads was born out of an interest stirred in Madam Mosia after a research project about the wine industry, which she conducted whilst working towards her Master’s Degree in Business Leadership.
However, developing her wine company and securing a production partner only became a reality in 2012. It just goes to show you what an attitude this woman has.
Jenna Bruwer – Springfield Estate
Adorned in Nike Airforce Ones and a flowing dress, Jenna Bruwer welcomed us to the grounds of the family run Springfield Estate set in the heart of the mountain-ringed Robertson Valley in the Western Cape of South Africa.
The hands-on Marketing Manager of Springfield Estate is part of a present generation that is boldly tending the rocky Springfield soils, and are prepared to take risks to do what they love best – making wine.
Assisted by a team of dedicated workers, many of whom have been with the Bruwers for decades, Springfield continues to set the standard for winemaking in South Africa.
Kathy Van Nierkerk – Boschendal Wine Estate
Kathy van Nierkerk walked us through one of the most beautiful wine estates you can visit in South Africa. The DGB owned Boschendal estate.
The iconic white – gabled Manor House has been supplying one of the most impressive portfolios of wines in South Africa and the rest of the world.
And with personnel like Kathy leading the vibrant team there, you see why this estate will keep leading the way when it comes to producing some of the best wine available. The key thing I picked up from Kathy though was the fact that she was more at home than at work at Boschendal.
Izele Van Blerk – KWV Wine Emporium
“If you are going to do something, do it 150 % or don’t do it at all”. Those were the words of the exciting winemaker from KWV Wine Emporium, Izele van Blerk.
Apart from taking the time to show us a good time in South Africa along with Surene Scheepers, Izele introduced us to some of the key brands under the KWV umbrella. Represented in over 100 markets globally, the 1918 established KWV (Producer of over 100 products) is known as having maintained a century-long reputation for quality which is reflected in its globally admired status for fine wines, fortified and brandies.
With grapes from over 50 farmers all over the Western Cape, KWV is not just producing some of South Africa’s best wines but some of the world’s very best.
Lizelle Gerber – Nedeberg
Celler-master extraordinaire, that’s what I call Lizelle Gerber. The award-winning winemaker who recently joined recently joined Nedeberg as its new cellar-master has worked as winemaker at DGB’s Bellingham and then Boschendal estates. While appearing calm and collected, Lizelle explained that her primary goal was to guide the winemakers at Nederberg to excel at what they do.
As one of the most awarded and oldest wine brands in South Africa (also under Distell), Nederburg traces its root to 1791 when Philippus Wolvaart bought the farm which formed the foundation on which the success of Nederburg continues to flourish.
Denise Stubbs – Diemersfontein Wine & Country Estate
Speak of a from-grass-to-grace story, and Denise Stubbs will aptly serve as a poster child for such. The daughter of laborers in the Agricultural industry, Denise has risen through the ranks with the guidance of her boss and mentor David Sonnenberg who happens to be the third-generation owner of Diemersfontein.
She’s become an influential leader not just in her company but in the entire South African Wine industry. When I spoke to her about the challenges that women and black people face in making headway in the wine industry, she said to me “you can’t focus on the past and your upbringing, rather focus on persistently delivering quality in all you do and eventually you will breakthrough”.
The wine estate she works for Diemersfontein, is known for its beauty, informal elegance, and grace – an idyllic wine estate only 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town and is situated near the Cape & famous Wine Routes.
I have no authority to speak on issues relating to the advancement of the lot of women in the various productive sectors, and by all means we all need to do more to create safe and fertile environments for everyone (especially women) to thrive, but to my ladies out there, who are struggling, please keep fighting.
It might be beyond difficult, but with the stones, the system throws at you, I hope you can build magnificent edifices that inspire us all unto greatness.
Many thanks once again SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS, WINES OF SOUTH AFRICA, and JON WILLIAMS CONSULT for giving me the opportunity to meet these amazing and inspiring women in the wine lands of South Africa as part of the Wines of South Africa experience.