CNN International recently visited Spier wine farm, one of the Cape’s oldest estates. Established on the banks of the Eerste River three centuries ago, it has diversified over the past 25 years, cultivating the arts, building partnerships and promoting sustainability. 

CNN met Mariota Enthoven, whose family owns Spier wine farm. She explains their ethos: “A very strong message and a value that has been instilled in me is that we’re not owners. No one owns a piece of land. We are custodians of a piece of land; we’re here to leave it in a better space than when we found it for the next generation to then be a custodian.”

Mariota Enthoven, whose family owns Spier, was taught to leave her environment better than she found it.

Spier Arts Academy

When Mariota’s father, Dick Enthoven, bought the winery in 1993, it had seen better days and so he started an ambitious project to renovate, extend and decorate. He then set up the Spier Arts Trust to boost South African contemporary art.

While the farm is home to much of the art, Spier Arts Academy’s many projects are managed from a building in downtown Cape Town. Once a month a market gives emerging artists the chance to show off their talent.

Tamlin Blake, Spier Arts Trust Curator, talks about how the art scheme works: “We sort of see all the projects we run as an ecosystem. The first one being the Creative Block Project where artists come in, sort of at the bottom. We get to know who they are, and they get to know who we are and how we work. Through that relationship we spot artists who can then work on different programmes.”

Places at the Spier Arts Academy, including their mosaic school, are in high demand. The mosaic school alone receives 800 applications for its 25 places, as it offers a stipend and employment-based training alongside creative work.

Heinrich Joemath graduated from the school and chose to stay on to manage the mosaic studio. He explains how the school equips students with valuable skills to use alongside their artistic talent: “Once they have completed the full three years with us, they should be able to run their own businesses, seek possible job options and create new job options in the market. And mosaic in South Africa is something so very new.”

Regenerative farming

Spier’s ethos of restoring and maintaining ecosystems permeates every corner of the estate. Angus McIntosh, regenerative farmer, explains how this works: “The principles are very simple. We have many animals, a small space, a short period of time, and at least six weeks before we graze again.

“The reason we wait six weeks before anybody comes to graze, is that we want the grass to complete a growth cycle, which means the carbon cycles, technically the water cycles, and the nutrient cycles are intact. We are trying to encourage people to understand that they’re working in a place that’s creating life and nutrition.”

Mariota echoes this and describes how the family values translate across the farm: “The ethos of Spier is very much against the industrialisation and the reductionist thinking of ‘how can we make as much money in as little time as possible?’ We take a long-term view of the people on the planet and how the money is made, so it has to be sustainable.”

The Spier estate welcomes people from around the world and received 100 000 guests last year alone. Mariota told CNN about encouraging global visitors: “I’m hoping that the more we keep pouring our hearts and our efforts into Spier, that people who come here will share the same values as we do. And they come and they respect, and they love it and enjoy it. And because it’s so close to Cape Town, it’s like a restorative place.”

Spier’s tree-preneurs

Alongside welcoming international guests, Spier prides itself on collaborating with the local community and promoting sustainability. One of the projects is a scheme to grow indigenous plants by distributing seedlings to a network of tree-preneurs. They grow the trees and barter them back once they are bigger; in return receive food vouchers, school fees and bicycles.

Lesley Joemat, tree-preneur project manager, explains the multiple benefits of the scheme: “Everything that we ‘buy back’ I bring back here. We nurture it and it then goes out to the schools, municipalities, beautification projects, and obviously for riverine restoration.”

Spier has given the tree-preneurs space and resources. Lesley and her team ensure the project grows financially and logistically. They are resourceful and grow the seeds in old, discarded items such as buckets, shoes and suitcases.

Lesley Joemat manages a project that grows indigenous plants by distributing seedlings to a network of tree-preneurs.

Conservation

In addition to using discarded items for seeds, the tree-preneurs harvest their own water, complementing the farm’s water-wise drive, as Mariota explains: “At the moment we are recycling most of our waste, and we’re recycling all of our water. But we keep pushing the boundaries.” 

Waste reduction and sensitivity to the environment is part of the training all staff receive. Mariota told CNN about another of their initiatives: “So literally, we have taken people to go and clean up the plastic at the side of the river. And there’s also a programme called Love the Land, where people from different parts of the business can go and plant trees or sow seedlings or just get involved in all the different aspects.”

With a workforce of 350, Spier encourages growth and progression for its team and enables them to work in different roles. The diverse, sustainable estate constantly evolves and fuels the family’s ongoing passion.

The tree-preneurs grow seeds in old, discarded items.

“If we can create the most delicious eggs possible with integrity, that is that, and if we can create the most delicious wine possible, with integrity, that’s that. So, it’s this multifaceted, interesting creature that has got so many parts of it that you can just keep discovering. I never thought I could become so passionate about a place and its people,” says Mariota. – CNN International

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