Compagniesdrift, an empowered, community owned wine company in Stellenbosch celebrates ten years of growth and success at the end of a challenging year for South Africa and the wine industry in particular. They also celebrate their first year of total ownership of the company.
Compagniesdrift was established in December 2010 with the support of the Myburgh Family Trust, who owned fifty percent of the company at the time, Standard Bank and the Department of Land Affairs in the Western Cape through its Land Reform and Development programme (LRAD). The shareholder is the Meerlust Workers’ Trust, who became the full owner of the company in July 2019. The Trust consists of 72 workers from the Meerlust Estate, Compagniesdrift, Ken Forrester Wines and Vriesenhof Wines.
The business started as a modern, temperature-controlled wine storage facility with a capacity of almost 3 million bottles and the company’s client base grew from an initial four to over fifty clients.
Hannes Myburgh, owner of Meerlust Estate and Albie de Waal, Managing Director of the Estate started thinking of an empowerment project for a while before identifying a gap in the wine storage market. Ilse Ruthford, then a talented and inspiring Export Co-ordinator at Meerlust was appointed as the Managing Director of Compagniesdrift. Under her leadership, the company quickly diversified and was soon offering packaging, labelling and rework services to clients. One of the future plans is a mobile bottling facility, increasing the sustainability and growth prospects for the business.
In 2015 they produced their first wines, a Chardonnay, Chardonnay Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend. Awards from the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show soon followed with the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot receiving silver in 2018 and the 2019 Chardonnay Pinot Noir a bronze in 2020. Their wines are available online, in restaurants and liquor stores in the Western Cape and Gauteng and they acquired their first retail listing in Tops and Spar across the Western Cape this year. Wines are also exported to Germany and Singapore and soon also the United States of America.
“What makes our ten-year celebration so significant for us, is that we celebrate it in one of the wine industry’s most challenging years. The COVID-19 pandemic hit us very hard, but we were able to keep our business steady and also gained new business once the restrictions on wine sales were lifted”, says Ruthford.
“We have exciting plans for the near future”, says Ruthford. “Customers will soon be able to taste and buy our wines and other farm products in our long-awaited wine and farm store. We will also be launching our first, special label sweet wine in 2021.”
Ruthford regards the staff as the backbone of the company and continuously seeks growth and personal development opportunities for them. Training opportunities are identified for staff members to improve their qualifications and increase their growth path in the company, like a general worker becoming a healthcare worker and a credit controller becoming the finance manager after achieving her BCom Finance degree.
After she was awarded the provincial and national Female Entrepreneur of the Year for agri-processing in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries competition in 2014, she literally ploughed back some of her prize money with the establishment of a vegetable garden at Compagniesdrift. The garden provides additional jobs and assists with food security for the workers.
An annual breast health awareness campaign is done amongst female staff. Ruthford recovered from breast cancer in 2019 and has been a champion of this cause ever since. Part of the proceeds of the Chardonnay Pinot Noir wine sales is allocated to this campaign.
Housing for workers is another milestone Compagniesdrift wants to achieve. “We would like each worker to own a house and are working on a plan to make this possible”, says Ruthford.
True to their diverse business nature, Compagniesdrift will soon be re-introducing cattle on the farm.
“When we look back over the ten-year period, we are immensely proud of what we achieved in such a short space of time. The devastating effects of the pandemic and the personal setbacks of staff members over the ten years made us even stronger and more determined to achieve greater success in the years to come”, says Ruthford.
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