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Prescient briefing: Visio Vintners – black-owned and geared for long-term sustainability

By , 7 November 2023



Visio Vintners cultivates their own grapes on land adjacent to Kleine Zalze Wines. The 20.2 hectares of land is leased from the Stellenbosch Municipality on a long-term basis.

“I grew up in the vineyards – it has always been a place of joy for me,” says Norman Paulse on his childhood in Jonkershoek. Around the curve of the mountain at another Stellenbosch farm, Paulse is now the cellar manager at Kleine Zalze. That, however, is not not the only title he holds. Paulse is also the director of Visio Vintners, a black-owned wine company formed in 2017 by the then-owner of Kleine Zalze, Kobus Basson in collaboration with the Kleine Zalze Empowerment Trust, an organisation of the winery’s employees.

Paulse has been at Kleine Zalze for almost three decades now. “I started here in 1996 as a general worker, and it wasn’t long before I was promoted through the ranks.” Now as cellar manager he says he still finds joy from being in the vineyards. “I feel so privileged to have a job I love.”

“And this is what I tell my staff, you must love what you do. I still find something new to learn every single day – and I am with them, from grape receival to bottling. To make wine, for me, is joyful.”

The empowerment initiative was born from a need to address Kleine Zalze’s farm workers’ financial futures. The holistic vision encapsulates everything that a wine business requires from farming and management of employees to winemaking and marketing with the goal of long-term sustainability.

“We are a certified Fair Trade company at Kleine Zalze with good labour practices and many community projects – but we also wanted to do something for our team that would uplift them in the future,” explains head winemaker RJ Botha. “An investment like this will make a huge difference in their lives.”

On paper Visio Vintners is billed as: ‘a sustainable brand that creates significant profit to distribute to the beneficiaries and their families’. This worthy mission is tangibly rooted in almost 20-hectares of vineyard land, neighbouring Kleine Zalze. Basson kicked off the project by assisting the nascent company with a loan as well as negotiating a long-term lease to plant its first vineyards in 2017. The maiden vintage was in 2021. Kleine Zalze is a minority shareholder.

“It’s not easy starting a wine business,” says Botha. “But with our established production channels as well as distribution and access to markets we are helping Visio Vintners in every way we can to succeed.” Both Botha and general manager of Kleine Zalze, Carina Gous are at the coalface of the fledgling start-up and believe passionately in its future, Botha, for instance, working side-by-side with Paulse in Kleine Zalze’s winery to bring the wines to bottle.

Much like the success of its benefactors, the vines – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and shiraz – are planted on premium red wine soils, composed of decomposed granite with clay underbed, offering that magic combination of good drainage as well as water retention. The range of wines currently consists of sauvignon blanc, pinotage, cinsault rosé and red blend, Alliance, which is designated as ‘ultra-premium’ comprised of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, shiraz and pinotage.

Along with Paulse, the other directors of Visio Vintners are Gerald Snyman, who is the vineyard manager of Kleine Zalze and Brandon Uitlander who is responsible for the estate’s general maintenance.

In an official comment Uitlander said: “We are aware that it is no easy ride – this is not some sort of hand-out or window-dressing to make a business look good through ticking-off the BEE-box. The future of Visio Vintners lies in our hands. The vineyards must be worked, even if that means spending your weekend or afterhours pruning and suckering. We have to blend and bottle and ensure the product can stand proudly alongside all the other great wines South Africa sends into the market.”

So far the numbers are looking good. Visio has produced approximately 40 000 bottles of wine as well as 55 000 cans of sparkling wine, most of which were exported to Scandinavia. With the aid of Kleine Zalze, they have secured a U.K importer, Hatch Mansfield, and locally Vinimark will sell and distribute the wines. More markets will soon open up with the help of French wine group AdVini, who Kleine Zalze was sold to this year.

“There is nothing like looking at a vineyard and realising that you are part of a group of people fortunate enough to call it your own,” shares Paulse. “When we got together and held the first labelled bottles it was one of the most special moments of our lives.”

  • Prescient, a leading provider of investment expertise, has been sponsor of Winemag.co.za’s category reports since 2014.
  • Kleine Zalze was recently awarded a 2BFermControl organic fermentation kit for the Family Reserve 2019 being judged best overall in this year’s Prescient Cabernet Sauvignon Report. Read the report here.


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