Skills and quality production in the South African wine industry

Brown-Luthango, Mercy (2007-03)

Thesis (DPhil (Sociology and Social Anthropology))--Stellenbosch University, 2007.


There is a general consensus amongst industry experts that in order for the South African wine industry to sustain the success it has enjoyed thus far in export markets like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden and to become even more internationally competitive, its has to improve the quality of its wine and move into higher price categories of the wine market. Skills’ training has been highlighted as a significant component of a strategy to improve the quality of South African wine and its competitiveness in world markets. The aim of this study was to find out how the South African wine industry is adapting to new vineyard practices necessary for quality production at farm level, especially as far as training of vineyard workers is concerned. Four theoretical perspectives are discussed in relation to the restructuring of the world agro-food industry, the question of quality and the issue of training as it relates the production of quality wine. These theoretical perspectives are regulation theory, global commodity chain analysis, actor-network theory and the ergonomics perspective on the skills needed for the production of quality wine. The focus of the study was on different kinds of producers, i.e. co-operative cellars, private cellars and estates. The research covered two of the main wine-producing areas, namely Paarl and the Robertson area. At each farm, interviews were conducted with the farm owner, farm manager or viticulturist as well as a number of workers. Interviews were also conducted with prominent wine makers, skills trainers and facilitators and other industry experts. This was done to gain a better understanding of the South African wine industry as well as the major issues and debates as far as quality production and skills training are concerned. The study found that although there has been a general upgrading of skills in relation to new vineyard practices for quality production, workers at the co-operatives and estates studied do not yet receive the kind of in-depth knowledge which the theory argues is necessary for the production of quality wine. The private cellars invest much more time and resources in the training of their workforce. As far as the private cellars and estates are concerned there is a correlation between the quality of wine and training. The private cellars sell more than 50% of their wine in the premium, super-premium, ultra-premium and icon categories of the international wine market. The estates sell 70% and more of their wine in the basic category. The co-operatives on the other hand do not confirm the theory. In the absence of formal training, they manage to produce wine that competes well on an inter and intra-regional level. The evidence suggests that in a country like South Africa, in the context of a legacy of low education and literacy levels amongst workers, repeated demonstration and strict supervision can compensate to a certain degree for a lack of in-depth knowledge and discretion amongst workers.

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