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MAY 23, 2018


Colleagues are wonderful, but mentors are even more important. And at Waterford Estate, mentorship is starting to play a key role in ensuring the long-term prosperity of our team.

Producing wine is a physical business: there’s the growing, picking, sorting and crushing of the grapes, and the fermentation, bottling and labelling of the wine. But beneath this layer of hard physical labour lies a soft core: the emotional wellbeing of the people who grow and produce the wine.

The Waterford Estate brand is built around people, and great care is taken in nurturing each individual employee as time goes by. But keeping team members motivated and passionate can sometimes be hard work, as Waterford Estate farm manager and viticulturist David van Schalkwyk discovered.

David spends his days among the farm workers, tending to the diverse soils and vines that make up Waterford Estate. Over the last few years, David and his predecessors started to hit a few stumbling blocks in keeping the team functioning optimally. “We found it increasingly difficult to attract younger farm workers,” David says. “The younger men and women didn’t stay for more than a season or two, and lacked energy, enthusiasm and a sense of belonging.”

A structured mentorship programme provided an opportunity in which to help motivate the younger team members while encouraging mentorship skills among the older generation – the men and women who already had great influence among the community of people who lived and worked on the farm. For David, it was important to get the farm workers, both young and old, excited about their jobs again, thus contributing to their overall health and wellbeing.

When David crossed paths with Emile Neethling, life coach and founder of the Karmic Group in Somerset-West, Waterford Estate’s first formal mentorship programme was set in motion. And so, early in 2017, a handful of farm workers started to attend weekly sessions with their new coach.

“Initially, the course was quite intimidating, as we all had to do a lot of introspection,” David recalls. “Trying to figure out who we really are and where we wanted to be was difficult, but Emile helped us to work through these questions and to find the answers for ourselves. The second part of the programme focused on building relationships and becoming mentors to the people in our lives. One of the big lessons was realising that each one of us could be a mentor.”

Ronnie and Richard, the two farm workers who just completed the first programme with David, both found the course incredibly valuable. “Emile taught me how to be more mature and disciplined,” Ronnie says. “In the past, when there was a negative situation among the team, I used to just jump in and say what I wanted to say. But now I take a different approach.”

For Richard, the course was a wonderful adventure that took him on a journey of self-discovery. “I usually wouldn’t share my deepest emotions with others, but I managed to do this during the course. I learnt that it’s important to not just force my opinion onto others, but to try to step into other people’s shoes and to first get their perspective on things. I really learnt how to listen.”

Blommie, one of Richard’s colleagues, immediately noticed the difference. “In the past, Richard would have criticised me. After completing the programme, he now just encourages me.”

When asked if, after the course, Ronnie and Richard found their jobs more fulfilling, Richard is quick to answer: “Absolutely. I used to be quite tense when coming to work in the morning. Now I’m more relaxed. It’s a choice I make every day.”

Only time will tell if the mentorship programme succeeds in encouraging younger farm workers to make Waterford Estate their permanent home. But, so far, it’s had a very positive effect on the team. And with the second course already underway, the future looks promising.

“Waterford Estate is having a massive, positive influence on their people’s lives. They’re changing lives more than they can imagine,” says coach Emile, adding that the group of farm workers are kind, generous people. “They have a passion for what they do and are, in return, always grateful for the opportunity to be part of this family and happy to work in a caring culture.”

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