When Waterford runs in your blood
Waterford Estate may have a shorter ancestry than other farms but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fuelled by family ties.
As is the case in many other wine-producing countries of the world, South African wine farms are often passed down from generation to generation. In the process, parents pass on a legacy of their love of farming and their passion for wine and, as the family’s livelihood is closely connected to the farm’s prosperity, it’s in everyone’s best interest to make it succeed.
But when a winery is as young as Waterford Estate and held in the hands of two families with its prosperity being cultivated, too, by the many permanent staff and families, instilling a passion for the brand in its people must be achieved in other ways. This important ingredient to success has to be taught through a strong and rewarding work culture, transparent communication, and a sense of kinship.
Fortunately, this was a challenge that Waterford Estate managing partner Kevin Arnold never shied away from. From the start, Kevin made everyone who touched the Waterford Estate brand feel like family members, while nurturing the hardworking families who lived and worked on the farm. In his own authentic way, Kevin created a unique, family-orientated culture and a staff contingent that’s as passionate about the 20-year-old brand as the owners themselves.
Two families that are intricately woven into the tapestry that is Waterford Estate are the Blaauws and Engelbrechts. The Blaauws lived on the plot that became Waterford Estate in 1998 and joined Kevin’s small team when he first started producing wine here. The Engelbrechts, in turn, met Kevin at Rust en Vrede Estate, walked a path with him there, and joined him on his new wine-making adventure when he left to start Waterford Estate.
Natasha Duncan (née Blaauw, 28) still remembers collecting milk from an old shed on the farm and picking fruit from the pear and prune orchards that were spread across the property before it was turned into one of South Africa’s top wine estates. “I lived in the same house since the age of two and only recently moved away to Somerset West,” she says.
The Blaauws are a close-knit family that simply can’t imagine living their lives anywhere else. Natasha’s mom, Sannie, currently co-manages the farm crèche while her dad, Richard, forms an essential part of viticulturist David van Schalkwyk’s team.
Natasha, who first started working at the winery as a 19-year-old student, has been employed by Waterford Estate for nine years now. Slowly but surely, and with the gentle guidance of Kevin and the managers that came before her, Natasha progressed into her current role as senior tasting room floor manager. Without any formal training outside of Waterford Estate, she has managed to become a powerful asset to the team.
“I learnt everything I know about wine here at Waterford Estate,” she says. “The work continues to be interesting and challenging, and the estate’s unique approach to customer service is part of what keeps me here. It’s also incredibly special that my entire family is involved in some or other way.”
Over the years, Natasha has adopted Kevin’s philosophy of carefully nurturing the people who form part of her own team: “Like Kevin, I believe in giving everybody the opportunity to thrive, and that we should all support each other and work together as a unit.”
This philosophy has borne fruit in the tasting room, where the students and staff all have high praise for Natasha. “We all have our amazing story of progressing at Waterford Estate,” says marketing coordinator Isabelle Bezuidenhout. “But Natasha was our manager and shaped us into the employees we are today.”
Waterford Estate also runs in Brandon Engelbrecht’s blood. Like Natasha, Brandon (23) grew up on the farm and learnt most of what he knows about the winery from his mom Bernie, the estate’s creative tasting-room assistant, and his dad Hendrik, the store-room manager.
Brandon, who dreamt of becoming a soccer coach, started working at Waterford Estate as a student five years ago – and immediately got sucked in. He is now being trained to become a tasting-floor manager and recently completed his first Cape Wine Academy training course. Not only does he now love the world of wine, but he seems to have truly found his calling.
“The people here are like family to me,” Brandon says. “I also love being able to talk about my day at work with my family, and realise that being able to work so closely with my mom and dad is a rare and wonderful opportunity. I also love working with people, which is why I enjoy my work in the tasting room so much.”
Both Natasha and Brandon feel it’s been a great privilege to grow with the brand, and they have a true sense of sibling responsibility to its success. In true Waterford Estate spirit, they’re also both looking forward to many more adventures as part of this close-knit family of wine pioneers.