Thursday, April 15, 2010

VAN LOVEREN empowers staff in new wine venture

Black Economic Empowerment deal sees purchase of new farm

In a two-tiered and broad-based BEE deal, Van Loveren, the well-known Robertson wine farm owned by the Retief family, together with 116 (of whom 52 are women) of its staff and pensioners, have purchased a 138-hectare grape farm in the Robertson Wine Valley. The farm, which is 52% owned by an employees trust and the balance by the Retief family, has signed a long-term grape supply contract with Van Loveren Private Cellar. This will render the farm profitable within its first year of operation. Simultaneously, in a joint venture with the trust, Van Loveren has launched the Five’s Reserve wine range, comprising a white wine, a rosé, two reds and a brandy, which will be marketed locally, to the tourist sector, and internationally.

Phillip Retief, marketing director of Van Loveren, who facilitated all aspects of the new ventures, believes that the deal fulfills most of the important criteria set out by the WineBEE Charter, presently being formalised by the wine industry. He says, ‘Land ownership is an important and emotional element of any such arrangement but we are confident that with our carefully planned business model and the commensurate development of business and farming skills of our partners, we can sustain the long-term viability of this venture. Everyone involved is hugely enthusiastic and it’s a pleasure for the Retief family to share in the growth of the Van Loveren brands with our extended family, in a true sense of partnership.’

Niklaas Prins, a trustee of the De Goree Employees Trust, who has worked at Van Loveren for 20 years, says, ‘My colleagues and I at Van Loveren are delighted to be involved in this exciting development. Owning a share in the farm gives one a sense of security but we all know that making a success of the grape farming and the Five’s Reserve wine range are the most challenging and important parts of the project. We have no doubt that the ‘four cousins’ (as the two sets of Retief brothers are affectionately known) have the skills and vision to help us achieve our goals.’

Early in 2006 the De Goree Employees Trust and the Retief family took transfer of the 138-hectare farm, De Goree, in the Goree district of the Robertson Wine Valley, although they had been farming there since May 2005. The beneficiaries of the trust are Van Loveren’s 104 existing and retired staff and 12 employees who worked for the previous owners of the farm. A grant from the Department of Land Affairs assisted with the purchase of the farm.

De Goree farm presently has 49 hectares under vineyards, which will be increased over time as improved water rights are received. Van Loveren has signed a long-term contract with the trust for the supply of grapes to its cellar, at market-related prices. Hennie Retief, a viticulturist by training and Van Loveren’s production director will oversee the running of De Goree farm. The four trustees of the trust, Chrisjan Williams, Johanna Prins, Niklaas Prins and Maritsa Jansen, will all be involved in the management of the farm and the development of the Five’s Reserve range of wines.

Van Loveren has a long history of staff upliftment and development. For many years now all staff housing has been fully serviced (running water, electricity etc); farm schooling was provided until community schools proved adequate; a ‘women’s club’ run by the Retief wives has been going for 15 years; comprehensive staff training is provided, etc. At the 2006 Rudnet Awards (funded by the SA Wine Industry Trust – SAWIT) for good labour relations, Van Loveren scored 87%.

With the advent of the De Goree empowerment initiative, appropriate skills development, training and mentorship programmes will be established, particularly for middle- to senior management candidates.

Launch of Five’s Reserve wine range

The Five’s Reserve wine range was developed by Van Loveren and is 25%-owned by the De Goree Employees Trust. The range comprises a Chenin Blanc, a Rosé, a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon Pinotage blend and a 5-year old Brandy. As with all the Van Loveren wines emphasis will be on excellent value. The wine will be distributed through Van Loveren’s usual channels, and with the labelling depicting the ‘big five,’ the range will be targeted at tourist destinations, particularly national parks and game reserves. The wine will also be exported worldwide.

In 2006 Van Loveren celebrated its 25th year as a wine brand. Wynand and Nico Retief launched Van Loveren wines in 1980 with 500 cases. In 2010, with the business being run by the ‘four cousins’ (Wynand’s sons Phillip and Neil and Nico’s sons Bussell and Hennie), production of the Van Loveren and Four Cousins brands is 1 000 000 cases, making them the largest privately-owned wine brands in South Africa. Part of their success is attributed to the strong focus on the local market, with less than 25% of the wine being exported.

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