Alvi’s Drift in Top Gear

Wednesday, 11 November, 2020
Santi Basson
Alvi’s Drift is situated on the shores of the Breede River near Worcester and the colourful name is derived from the nearby low water bridge, which gives secure access over the river. The farm was established in 1928 and the first owner, Albertus Viljoen van der Merwe, known as Alvi amongst friends and family, was actively involved in the decision to build the bridge over the drift.

According to Riaan Marais, cellar master of Alvi’s Drift, approximately 280 people are employed by the farm, of which seven cellar assistants are permanently involved in the cellar. Most of the Alvi’s Drift employees grew up on the farm and some families are the fourth generation living and working on the farm.

Well-trained individuals are rare in the area and therefore it is a policy of Alvi’s Drift to employ their own farmworkers to fill vacant posts and to ensure that they receive thorough relevant training.

Alvi’s Drift has a firm commitment to community development dating back to the 1930’s. According to Dr Alvi van der Merwe, winemaker and chief of the cellar team, his grandparents realised the value of transfer of knowledge and training. They were committed to the development of farm workers’ knowledge as well as literacy levels and his grandmother taught farmworkers to read and write. Dr van der Merwe believes it is important to promote the youth and to empower the farmworker community, as a successful business cannot exist or flourish without well-trained employees. However, Alvi’s Drift’s involvement extends far wider than the farm, with a committed approach to make a difference in the immediate region. According to Dr van der Merwe, high standards are maintained on the farm, with the expectation that each employee will deliver his or her best.

Alvi vd Merwe, Riaan Marais, William Carolus, Bernard Louw, Wim Viljoen, Tom Mazetta, Riëtte Bester

Alvi’s Drift is a regular participant in the Winetech study groups and workshops for senior cellar assistants. The Winetech programmes are regarded as a strong foundation for the development of cellar assistants’ knowledge. The study groups create an enthusiasm for the product which cellar assistants work with and they regularly report of aspects which they were previously unaware of. The Winetech study groups and senior workshops are therefore not only responsible for transfer knowledge, but according to Riaan, it also offers perspective and participation adds value as cellar assistants’ confidence is developed in the process. Dr van der Merwe confirmed that the insight that arises from participation in the Winetech study groups and senior workshops leads to less errors in the cellar.

According to Riaan it is a challenge to ensure employees’ growth develop with the company and that no one is left behind. Therefore, it is important that formal training and transfer of knowledge remain relevant because interest can be easily lost in the process. To achieve this, thought patterns of cellar assistants must be stimulated continuously. He also believes that cellar assistants should be exposed to new trends in the wine industry through transfer of knowledge and formal training programmes.

Well-established informal mentoring relationships in the cellar and on the farm ensure that employees are constantly empowered and often promoted to more senior positions. Riaan confirmed that most of the unit managers were gradually promoted as they gained more experience. According to Dr van der Merwe three of Alvi’s Drift farm managers grew up on the farm and received the appropriate training to equip them for senior positions.

The cellar team is constantly exposed to the larger picture in terms of agriculture in general and specific circumstances which apply to the farm. Bernard Louw, senior cellar assistant, is encouraged to air his opinion during wine tastings to develop and expand his practical knowledge. International students regularly do internships in the cellar and the exposure to other cultures adds enormous value to the development of the Alvi’s Drift cellar team’s experience and knowledge.

The support of cellar assistants’ growth and development is certainly one of the best decisions a cellar can take, as it brings a greater understanding of the needs of these individuals and also serve as a motivation for them in turn.

Alvi vd Merwe, Riaan Marais, William Carolus, Bernard Louw, Wim Viljoen, Tom Mazetta, Riëtte Bester
Alvi vd Merwe, Riaan Marais, William Carolus, Bernard Louw, Wim Viljoen, Tom Mazetta, Riëtte Bester



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