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Successes and challenges of the SA wine industry: 3 Documentaries that take us beyond the barrel

This article first appeared in City Press.

by: Rhodé Marshall and Grethe Kemp | 25 Feb 2018
 

(image: iStock)

Traditionally white-dominated, South African winemaking is starting to see transformation. Here are three documentaries that delves into the strides gained and challenges that are still faced. 

1. The Colour of Wine

Acclaimed local film maker Akin Omotoso’s documentary The Colour of Wine looks at the history of South African democracy from the point of view of wine. The winemakers, who are the subject of his film, were among the first black people to study the art.

Omotoso sheds light on an important but currently neglected aspect of South Africa’s transition from apartheid: the heaviness of it all. Omotoso has, in previous interviews, discussed the difficulties of moving into white spaces – something he says is often forgotten when discussing South Africa’s “seamless” transition. This is the difficult conversation The Colour of Wine explores. While celebrating the strides black wine producers have made, it acknowledges that there are still barriers to access, such as financing and language. 

Creating the Blend

This 20-minute documentary looks at the projects and community efforts that have been made to support the 291 000 people the South African wine industry supports.

Each programme is geared towards enriching and adding value to wine industry workers. This includes efforts to help them with land ownership, education, healthcare, training and business opportunities. While there has been justified criticism of the treatment of farm workers in the industry, Wines of SA (Wosa) USA created this documentary to showcase the inclusivity, upliftment and growth that is happening. Wosa represents all South African wine producers who export their products. The biggest message the makers of the documentary want to drive home is that their products are made under ethical conditions, to appease consumers.

Bitter Grapes

Created by Danish documentarian Tom Heinemann, Bitter Grapes drew massive critique from the local wine industry after its release in 2016. Heinemann compared the South African wine industry’s labour practices to slavery. He depicts instances of long working hours, alleged labour law violations and squalid conditions. Although much still needs to be done to improve the lives of South Africa’s farm workers (not just in the wine industry but across the board), there have been many reforms. Heinemann was accused of ignoring several trade unions that had a better story to tell, for the sake of sensationalism. Nevertheless, Bitter Grapes is a good documentary to watch to see how some wine farms (five were identified in the documentary) aren’t meeting required standards for their workers. 

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