Berene Sauls - Export and packing logistics manager for Hamilton Russell Vineyards.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I grew up in a small village called Tesselaarsdal situated 24 km northeast of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hermanus in the Overberg region (of South Africa). Tesselaarsdal has a unique history where East India Company settler, Johannes Tesselaar, left his land to his freed slaves to farm upon his death in 1810. I am a descendant of those slaves and my parents still live there. After completing school, I initially joined Hamilton Russell Vineyards in February 2001 as an au pair at the age of 19. I soon moved to an administrative position and quickly got involved in the much more complicated administration linked to wine exports, labeling as well as warehousing of the estate’s wines. Experiencing so many aspects of the business already, my curiosity turned towards the delicate process from grape to bottle, the very layered wine culture and living the excitement of each harvests. Fifteen years after starting my career in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Anthony Hamilton Russell offered to assist me with the wonderful opportunity to wholly own my own wine business and join the rest of the Hemel-en-Aarde area as a producer with the expert assistance of Hamilton Russell Vineyards winemaker Emul Ross and the Hamilton Russell Vineyards’ team. I recently purchased property in Tesselaarsdal Overberg to plant my own vineyards of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – this will be developed over the next five years. All this while holding down my very demanding full-time position at Hamilton Russell Vineyards as export and packaging logistics manageress.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I grew up in a beer drinking community and witnessed the dop stelsel in South Africa where wine was used as an oppressive means to pay laborers on certain farms. When I started my wine career on Hamilton Russell Vineyards in 2001, I was curious to know why people pay so much for wine and about the process that everyone takes so much pride in. I wanted to feed my curiosity and learn about the delicate process from grape to bottle – I think that was my ‘aha’ moment.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The overall positive feedback on my wine, consumers and wine connoisseurs recognizing the quality and style. Working towards a goal, as I mentioned I recently purchased property for vineyard planting end October last year in my hometown of Tesselaarsdal in the Overberg and looking forward to developing the vineyards and eventually the wine style from those vineyards.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
Coming from a non-wine background, my knowledge of wine was always questioned.
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and are often more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we as women become more aware of our own prejudice towards each other and change that behavior?
We need to support each other, I think it is a victory if another woman excels, innovates, achieves, accomplishes.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
By supporting women you make opportunities for growth and skills development available.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I would like to see more women winemakers and more family vineyards established.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Do not subject quality for quantity. Be passionate about wine but also be involved in every aspect of the business. Take pride in what you do, it will display in the final product. Be humble and work towards a goal.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
In South Africa, I have noticed an increase in black winemakers over the years but more could be done. We need more mentors and a hand up, not a handout.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
With my development of my property in Tesselaarsdal I wish to invest in my community and also wine-educate the youth. I would like to, when I am in a position to do so, offer someone the same opportunity that was offered to me.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
Being passionate, ambitious, creative, innovative, hardworking and humble to what eventually is a work of art in a bottle. This all being time-consuming, and most women are mothers as well, which is also a full-time job on its own.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
I have quite a few. I have had the honor of traveling and getting to know these following amazing women on UK trade trip September last year: Natasha Williams of Bosman Wines, also have her own label Lelie van Saron Chardonnay – her skills are defined in her wine with finesse and character and she is ambitious and driven. Jessica Saurwein of Saurwein Wines, passionate about her wines, this follows through in her winemaking – also a boutique wine producer, driven and a mother to two children. Samantha O’Keefe of Lismore Estate Vineyards, another hardworking, driven wine producer, delivering absolutely stunning wines all this while raising two sons alone. Samantha also suffered losing her vineyards and cellar in a devastating fire last year and kept producing in spite of this set back. Kiara Scott, an up-and-coming young winemaker of Brookdale Vineyards in Paarl, she too reflects so much passion from vines to wines. Then, Olive Hamilton Russell and Talita Engelbrecht of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, I have learned my business savvy from them and they also assisted me with the sales and marketing of Tesselaarsdal Wines being my soundboard and giving me expert advice. Wendy Petersen of South African Wine Industry Transformation Unit and Vela Gedze of Department of Agriculture – these women has assisted me in development and initial funding of much needed equipment and resources.