Sixty percent of the permanent vineyard and cellar team at De Toren Private Cellar is female. What’s more, the harvesters and vineyard tenders are female only. It’s an unusual statistical skew for the wine industry, but not an unusual approach for De Toren – the luxury estate boldly embraces innovation and extreme care in the name of producing rare and exceptional wines that are consistently among the world’s most awarded.
An exception to the rule on several fronts, the Stellenbosch estate lays claim to many industry firsts. It was one of the first to plant and produce Bordeaux-style blends in South Africa; the first to introduce a gravity-fed cellar; and the first to achieve over 90 points from wine critics for a maiden vintage. Consider also that De Toren’s vineyard rows are aligned to face the prevailing winds off False Bay and not at right angles to the wind as farmers are taught. By doing this, cooler air is channelled through the vineyard, lowering the temperature, extending the ripening period and keeping the vines free of disease. Like its wines, De Toren’s practices are clearly beyond the norm.
The rationale behind female-only harvesters and vineyard tenders is primarily a practical one. The estate is of the belief that women have smaller hands with a slightly gentler touch, and they have indeed found this to be the case over the estate’s 20 years of existence.
De Toren’s choice of female harvesters may appear anecdotal, yet there is something to it. The publication Psychology Today indicates that there is indeed distinct power in a woman’s touch.
At De Toren, the all-female vineyard team is led by Johanna Paulse, Fransiena Radloff and Wilma Riet. This trio is responsible for the execution of all viticulture practices on a single shoot level, all the way through pruning to harvesting. They train any contractors and manage the internal team to ensure De Toren’s superlative standards are adhered to at all times.
In the cellar, quality controllers Rochelle Scheffers and Christine Scheffers are valued for their meticulous attention to detail when it comes to sorting, particularly during the pressures of harvest season. Outside of harvest season, this pair executes the bottling, labelling and individual packaging of all wines and the elaborate custom packaging of De Toren gift boxes and cases.
In addition to the pro-female approach on the harvest and cellar side, women hold key senior management roles at De Toren. These include Anja Bekker, Head of Marketing & Distribution and Marketing Executive Mariëtte van Tonder, who are joined by Customer Relationship Manager, Else-Marie Muller and Finance Manager, Nicolette du Preez.
According to Bekker: “It is wonderful to work on an estate where the contribution of women is seen as critical and where innovation and world-class excellence are prized above all. We’re all extremely proud knowing that we make showcase wines that demonstrate to the world what South Africa is capable of producing!”