THE tenacity of a teenager who was destined to work as a labourer on a wine farm has seen him rise through the ranks to become a wine tasting room manager.
Denzel Swartz comes from three generations of farm workers on a wine farm in Stellenbosch.
His grandfather was a general worker, his father a foreman and his mother worked in the kitchen while various extended family members also worked on the farm. Swartz had other aspirations, however. As a young child he wanted to work on the farm but not in the vineyards.
“I have always believed that farm workers are the most skilled workers because they do a variety of tasks. They have to clean pipes, they need to cut grapes, they must be able to work in the cellar but that was not for me. I always wanted to work in the wine industry.”
Swartz said he wanted to attend an agricultural high school in Paarl but due to a lack of funds he was unable to. This was when the reality of his job prospects sunk in, that maybe he was destined to be a farm worker.
“I was so frustrated but I told myself that if I received an opportunity to not be a general worker I would grab it with both hands. I knew that I wanted to be in a position where I can give opportunities to other children like me. My parents did enough general labour for me to settle in that also.”
During his high school years he worked on the farm putting away the money he earned. In his matric year he enrolled in a vineyard pruning course at Elsenburg Agricultural College. Once he completed the course he had a practical component to complete. This was to be his breakthrough moment at the age of 18.
“I got the opportunity to apply for a wine advising seasonal worker [position]. This means that I would have to give wine tasting to visitors. I was rejected by the farm manager at the time.
“There were certain benefits that farm workers and their children were entitled to but no one ever challenged the system and asked for the benefits. I refused to accept the rejection. I made an appointment to see the managing director. I was a hard worker, I passed matric and the vineyard pruning course with good marks so I didn’t see why I was rejected. After the meeting, I was told that I got the job.”
Knowing that he had the job in the bag he set out to prove his worth. Once the seasonal work was completed, the farm manager complimented him on the excellent work he had done. He worked as a junior wine advisor for two years before he left to work for an NGO. But a few years later he was back on the farm.
“I was offered a job in 2011 on the farm and in 2012 I got a permanent position on the farm as a wine advisor. The farm paid for my studies at the Cape Wine Academy. They also paid for a course for me at Stellenbosch University, a wine judging course. In 2014 I was promoted to manager of the tasting room. I am a farm child that has come full circle.”
TMG Digital, Cape Town