Johann de Wet sees Farmer of Year Award as Recognition for Wine Industry

Top image: Johann de Wet

The honour is as great and enjoyable as a well-matured Chardonnay from the Robertson region. That was the reaction of Johann de Wet upon hearing that he was named Agri Western Cape’s Young Farmer of the Year for 2018. Since last year Johann has been the CEO of De Wetshof Estate outside Robertson, the farm where he grew up and which his father, Danie, elevated to one of South Africa’s leading wine farms and in particular a producer of world-class Chardonnay wines.

“This title is not only a big honour for me, but also for the local wine industry,” says Johann. “To select a wine farmer for this award is indicative of the important role our industry plays in the Western Cape agricultural sector. I have always maintained that agriculture and the wine industry portray the image of a country. That is why this initiative by Agri Western Cape to give recognition to young farmers is so important, as it underscores the quality of farmers and agricultural practices.”

Johann cannot imagine that he ever wanted to do anything other than to be a wine farmer. “As children growing up on De Wetshof, my brother Peter and I used to ‘make’ our own wine and label it with our self-sketched labels,” he recalls. “Even then we had an agreement: Peter would make the wine and I would sell it.”

After obtaining a qualification in marketing, Johann worked at various wine farms in Europe and developed a keen interest in viticulture. When he started full-time work on De Wetshof in 2005, the 200 ha of vineyards were part of his responsibilities, while Peter established himself in the cellar.

“The vine is a plant that fascinates me because it goes through so many stages within one year, and the quality of each vintage’s wine is directly determined by how those individual phases – winter dormancy, pruning, budding, flowering and berry development – are managed,” says Johann.

And this is where he lives De Wetshof’s belief in the influence of terroir – weather, soil and location – on the farm’s wines.

“We specialise in Chardonnay, and each of the five Chardonnay wines reflect the geographical characteristics of the specific site on which the vineyard is planted,” he says. “This is what gives me such great pleasure when I introduce De Wetshof wines to people in South Africa and abroad – these are five wines from the same grape variety, but each one displays a unique fingerprint due to the soil composition in which the vineyard grows and the micro-climate of its environment.”

“When it comes to his farming philosophy, Johann believes in purposeful management of the right people.

“The wine farmer’s responsibility is manifold – from cultivating soil in the vineyard, cellar management and marketing of your wines. I believe that as CEO you have to keep yourself informed about every aspect of the farming operations as far as possible and know exactly what is going on. At the same time you have to get the most competent people to carry out their duties to the best of their ability,” says Johann. “I certainly would not have been recognised by Agri Western Cape if it wasn’t for the fantastic team working under me, but which I am also just one member of.”

According to Johann he is part of an industry faced with major challenges.

“South Africa’s wine producers are largely dependent on export markets, and the challenge is to convince wine drinkers abroad that our wines can compete with those of any other country,” he says. “The quality of our wines is definitely there, but we lack the image of a premium wine producer that can command good prices in the international market place. It is my generation of wine farmers’ responsibility to continue the work of our forebears and ensure that South Africa is seen as a wine country of excellence whose wines are spoken of with esteem. I look forward to this challenge and considering the general quality of South Africa’s wine farmers, I am sure we will succeed in this goal.”