A new initiative has been launched in South Africa to empower black vineyard workers.

The ‘Vineyard Academy’ training scheme is a joint venture between South African Wine Trust and Afrika Vineyards, a farm and vineyard management company. It has been set up to address the need for basic education as well as specialist viticultural training.

Michael Fridjon, chairman of the trust, has hailed the project as an opportunity for South Africa to establish itself as a world leader in the field of high-quality, labour-intensive viticulture.

Farmers will subsidise the non-profit organisation by contributing towards the cost of the courses, and the government will refund a significant proportion of the fees. All courses will be officially accredited and count towards the credits a student needs for entry to university.

Hand in hand with basic training, students will also receive instruction in vineyard practices – and not only in South Africa. A group of 10 students recently returned from a two-month trip to Burgundy, where they studied at the wine school in Beaune.

These exchanges are expected to take place on a regular basis in the future, but the final goal is to open a wine school in South Africa itself.

Although South Africans have taken huge steps towards empowering black vineyard workers in recent years, Gerrie Wagener, managing director of Afrika Vineyards, believes the country still has a long way to go before the industry achieves a degree of balance.

‘It’s as much about the need for life skills as it is for technical training,’ says Wagener. ‘We have to address the need for literacy and numeracy training, as well as teaching them business skills. The big challenge is to create an environment in which we can give them the opportunity to move on with their lives.’

Written by Natasha Hughes7 December 2001