Rydal Jeftha, MD of Koopmanskloof Winery.

We chat with one of our members each month about their business, what makes them lie awake at night and what gives them hope. “The wheel will turn. Keep on adapting, persevere, use your resources wisely and look after your people,” says Rydal Jeftha, MD of Koopmanskloof Winery.

1. Tell us more about Koopmanskloof?

Koopmanskloof is located on the western slopes of the Bottelary Hills in Stellenbosch. The name is derived from the fact that Dutch settlers from the Cape traded with the people (koopmans) who lived here on the farm at the time.

The farm has been owned by the Smit family since 1896 and the wine cellar was built in 1945 by the late Stevie Smit, who bought the farm from his parents and expanded it further. Stevie founded a company, Koopmanskloof Vineyards, in 2007 as a partnership with his employees, to handle the operational management. He passed away in 2009 and the company still manages all aspects of the business consisting of six farms that border or are in close proximity to each other.

The farms affiliated to Koopmanskloof are approximately 600 ha in size, on which 430 ha of trained and bush vines have been established. The average wine grape harvest is 2 800 tons, of which an average of 2 million litres of wine is made annually.

What really sets Koopmanskloof apart is the fact that we have been 100% Fairtrade certified since 2007, which makes us one of the oldest and biggest pioneers in this category. Koopmanskloof Vineyards has a 51% black employee shareholding and is under black management, which also makes us frontrunners in this regard.

We have good control of our wine value chain, which gives us consistency when it comes to quality, wine style and uniformity with regard to customers’ expectations. We produce 11 different cultivars of which 7 are red and 4 white wine grapes. We are truly diverse in terms of the combination and composition of our people, as well as the variety of cultivars and ways in which they are grown – from bush vines to vineyards, dryland and under irrigation, on different soil types and at different altitudes.

Koopmanskloof largely competes in the Fairtrade popular premium and lifestyle wine categories. Our target market is local and international retailers and wholesalers, as well as buyers of bulk wine.

Because we place great emphasis on local job creation, only bottled wine is exported under our own brands. Exports have decreased considerably over the past two years and currently take up 10% of our production in terms of volume, compared to 25% a few years ago. In the local market, we supply bulk wine to local buyers, as well as bottled wine to retailers under their own brands.

Apart from wine, olives are also grown and processed to olive oil. Where vineyards have been uprooted due to age and low yields, wheat and other grain crops are grown in the meantime. We also rent out houses and storage and tank space to private individuals and wine companies.

Koopmanskloof has 80 permanent employees, with an additional 100 temporary employees being recruited for seasonal tasks and appointed as and when required.

2. The past year has certainly been one of the most challenging yet for the SA wine industry. What do you believe has pulled you through and what lessons have you learned?

It has definitely been a challenging time and good internal as well as external relationships have proven to be crucial. Our employees’ well-being and positive attitude, as well as our loyal customer base are under normal circumstances essential to the sustainability of our business and we have not neglected it, even if it has been difficult at times. We just kept on going.

The uncertainty has been one of the biggest challenges and it required us to focus on factors within our control, and to assess and deal with the unexpected issues on merit, with sustainability in the short to medium term as the priority and ideal outcome. Realistic adaptability and a short chain in terms of decision-making has enabled us to respond quickly to challenges, and keep things simple.

3. What makes your region special in terms of tourism, as well as the terroir and wine styles from this region?

Koopmanskloof is only a 30-minute drive from Cape Town and on the Stellenbosch Wine Route, with panoramic views from the summit over Table Bay, Table Mountain, the Cape Peninsula, False Bay, Stellenbosch, Paarlberg mountain and the Swartland and Durbanville hills.

We have hiking and biking trails through our vineyards and have a private nature reserve stretching over 97 ha on the farm, where visitors can spend the night in a hut on the summit to enjoy the view and surroundings. Petrified trees and plants, as well as primitive tools were found on the farm, complementing our rich history.

Our vineyards are located on diverse soil types and at different altitudes near the coast. The influence of the cool southeast wind, as well as the Atlantic Ocean and False Bay play a big role during the hot summer months. Our bush and trained vines give good complexity and character to our cultivar wines.

4. Any exciting plans under way?

All expansions and upgrades have been postponed until there is more certainty about the effect of Covid-19 worldwide. All our markets have been affected, with no assured outcome at the moment. We have released a premium wine range that shows great promise, but opportunities are limited at this stage.

We plan to establish a bottling plant at Koopmanskloof that will enable us to obtain estate status, as well as greater control over the full wine value-chain on our own premises.

5. What is your message to other wine-related businesses about the road ahead?

The wheel will turn again. Keep adapting, persevere and do not use resources now if it is not absolutely essential for the sustainability of the business. Postpone that which can be postponed until circumstances improve.

Use technology and innovate as far as possible to communicate, market and sell your products. It’s cheaper anyway. Take care of your employees and their families and do everything in your power to keep them healthy, safe and positive, as essential seasonal tasks may not be neglected. It’s a fact that there are opportunities in tough times, look out for them. Prayer definitely helps.



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