Tasting Success: What It Took to Become A Wine Farm Owner In South Africa

Published 18 days ago
By Forbes Africa | Jessica Spiro
Paul Siguqa at the Klein Goederust wine farm; image supplied2
Paul Siguqa at the Klein Goederust wine farm (Image Supplied)

Paul Siguqa has had an unlikely journey in the wine business in South Africa. His mother worked in the vineyards as a laborer during the apartheid era and now, his fully black-owned wine farm sells premium products.

Paul Siguqa, owner of the Klein Goederust wine farm in Franschhoek in South Africa’s Western Cape province, is an unlikely figure in the country’s wine industry. His journey into wine, even more so. It starts on the Backsberg farm, less than 15km from the one he owns today, where he grew up watching his mother work as a laborer for over 30 years during South Africa’s apartheid era.

“Growing up on those farms as children of farm laborers, there’s this automatic narrative that you will become a farm laborer yourself,” says Siguqa, referring to the term as ‘intergenerational labor’. In sharp contrast to the picturesque backdrops of Franschhoek’s rolling hills, the daily reality for these laborers was incredibly tough. “There were a lot of negative things about the wine industry back then,” says Siguqa. “Such as low wages, working conditions, the lack of education amongst the workforce, and of course, the dop system.” Referring to an apartheid-era policy where workers were paid a portion of their salary in cheap wine or alcohol, the dop system is now illegal in South Africa, but still casts a long shadow in the country today.

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“The effects of the dop system will be with the wine industry for many years to come,” he adds. “In fact, in my class growing up, we knew who the dop system children were because they were fetal alcohol syndrome kids.”

Despite this, Siguqa reflects fondly on his childhood. “We had a very good and sheltered life as farm children,” he says. “When everybody is poor, you don’t know you’re poor,” he laughs. However, he says he never enjoyed being on the farm. “I never liked the idea of growing up to be a farm laborer,” he explains. “We didn’t see wine makers or viticulturists that were black. Even though the black people are working the land, all the bosses were white.” His mother shared this sentiment and became laser-focused on changing the course of her family’s life.

“My mother said that, in her family, she is the last to be a farm laborer, that it must stop with her.” His mother eventually moved from working in the vineyards, to the Méthod Cap Classique (MCC) cellar, but she was steadfast in her promise that intergenerational labor ended with her.

Eventually a teenager, Siguqa picked up a holiday job in nearby Backsberg. “In the tasting room, I saw a different face to wine,” he says. “It was more than just drinking. It was about the soils. It was about the vines. It was about the processes of harvesting,” he explains. “I decided then that I would own something like this.” It was also then that he started saving to make his dream come true. It took him 15 years until he was able to buy his own farm in 2019, teaming up with his childhood friend, and experienced winemaker, Rodney Zimba. “The farm we bought was in the market for eight years. Nobody wanted it because of the state of dilapidation,” says Siguqa. Along with entirely refurbishing the estate’s 1920s-era buildings, the vineyards were diseased, and had no irrigation, requiring them to uproot the vines. All in all, this restoration took three years.

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During this time, the soil needed testing to determine what to plant and where, as well as the corrections and interventions needed. “Today, we have an MCC, a Chardonnay, a Shiraz, a Chenin, a Cabernet blend and a dessert wine,” he says, adding “all crafted to perfection”. The estate’s flagship, however, is

its MCC Nomaroma, named for his mother. “We thought it would be appropriate to honor her and all the other women of the wine industry, especially the workers, because they’re never the ones receiving awards,” adds Siguqa. The sell-out MCC is significant for another reason. It symbolizes Siguqa’s commitment to quality. He says he knew from the get-go that the farm’s small size meant they would never be able to

compete with the big, established estates on volume, but quality is something they couldn’t compromise.

“We decided wewere only going to make premium, high-end wines, because there’s always been a perception in the wine industry that if it’s black-owned, the quality will not be of standard,” he says. “And unfortunately, there’s a reason for that.” He explains that even as the number of black-owned wines rise, many of these producers still don’t have their own farms.

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Even years after the end of apartheid, it’s estimated that less than 3% of South African vineyards are black-owned.

“So, what does a brand do? They source crops from mass producers, but those suppliers won’t sell you the top of their crop because that’s their name,” he continues. “For us, having a farm ensured we had the advantage of producing our own quality grapes.” In addition to securing quality produce, winemaker Zimba was a key part of Siguqa’s strategy for success. “When I approached him with the idea, he was working at Noble Hill and he said ‘look, this is so much bigger than both of us, I want in’.”

The team’s hard work has not only paid off, but Siguqa also wanted to make sure visiting the farm reflected the story he wanted to tell.

Whereas the rest of Franschhoek’s restaurants serve Eurocentric fine dining-style food, Klein Goederust offers a distinctly South African experience. Instead of multiple courses of foams, gels and purées, here you’ll find lamb on the spit, traditional roosterbrood, pickled fish and chicken on the braai.

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What makes Siguqa’s story stand out is not just that he defied all odds to make a success of himself. It’s also that he doesn’t take the responsibility of what he’s created lightly. When asked what his mother, now retired, thinks of his success, he says, “My mother is really proud of what we’ve achieved, but she keeps saying that our job is not done until we’ve taken a lot of other people with us and contributed to them and their growth. If we have not played a significant role in the uplifting of others, we still have a long way to go,” he says. “And I totally agree with that.”