Growing grape vines, fine wine and jobs in rural KZN
This week at the African Travel Indaba at the ICC, the co-operative winery Seventeen87 was introduced to Durbanites, as was a fine coastal wine made with grapes grown from a rural vineyard in Ndwedwe and Maphumulo.
In 2013, the KZN provincial government invested R19.5 million in the plantation of the vineyards and winery based in Ballito and Ndwedwe. Today the fruits of their labour are bottled and available for all.
Speaking to The Independent on Saturday at the Indaba was chief executive of Enterprise iLembe, Nathi Nkomzwayo, the backers of the development project.
“King Goodwill Zwelithini Zulu was supportive in naming the product and behind the idea of the vineyard plantation,” he said.
“We really appreciate the king’s input in terms of naming the wine, since the Seventeen87 name represents the date of the great King Shaka Zulu’s birth. However the king has his own brand of wine named ‘Bayede’ (hail to the king),” said Nkomzwayo.
He said with this product they were selling the story of King Shaka Zulu and this was a good way: sharing the taste of grapes from his own land.
“At the moment the vineyards consist of 12 hectares across the iLembe District and have employed 40 people who earn a stipend from the government since the product is not yet sold in stores,” said Nkomzwayo.
Winemaker Daniel Maerkl told of the many years getting the vineyards up and running.
“It’s a completely rural project in communities who had never seen a vineyard before. This is highly technical farming that involves year round work.”
He tells of amazement in communities as the first vines were planted and “the sticks in the ground came to life”.
“The idea is that the community is the owner of the project and we assist them to run the project and check on things and help them look after it until they can do it themselves, and then we step back,” he said, adding that the project had also proved you can grow quality vineyards on the coast.
“Our idea was to grow jobs in the region and agriculture is an important component of this. You can grow vines anywhere, but the challenge is quality.
“We have the opposite climate to the Cape, with summer rains which can tend to germinate fungi, the last thing you want. And our winters are just cold enough for the vines to go dormant,” he says.
To address these challenges, VinPro, which did the original survey for the project, chose the lesser-known villa blanc cultivar because it was most resistant to downy mildew.
It’s also common in warmer regions of France and Spain.It has a low alcohol percentage, making it an ideal lunchtime wine.
Maerkl would like to try growing more traditional cultivars like sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc to add to the mix.
More vineyards are coming under plantation with the support from the Ingonyama Trust for the project.
The winery itself is at Sugar Rush park in Ballito and although it has no retail outlet, that is expected to change soon.
To complete the brand, Seventeen87 is bringing in other wines from the Cape.
“You can’t only have one wine, you need to give customers a wine tasting experience,” Maerkl said.
As to his own journey into wine, he grew up in Stellenbosch and at school, the Paul Roos Gymnasium, they offered a wine module.
“I decided to do it and I fell in love. I was never going to be an office person,” he said.
He studied viticulture at Stellenbosch and worked on wine farms in the area.
“Then I got this phone call to come to Ballito. At first I said ‘No, you’ve got to be crazy’, but then I thought it was a great opportunity to do something different. And teach a community how you can plant a stick which becomes a fine wine,” he said.