SALT OF THE EARTH
When finally Pierre Van Der Merwe’s life story is told it will feature wine. Obviously. This is because he comes from a long line of men and women who lived by the sweat of the soil of the picturesque mountainous region of Western Cape, South Africa, growing grapes and fermenting wine. "Six generations on the farm now, since 1824," he says. There will be quick mentions about his education - Economics from the University of Stellenbosch. “I wanted to do a business course so that I can add more structure and business systems in the production of wine.”
There will be a bit about his childhood, working in farms with his siblings. His father - a man who was born and raised a farmer - dying when he was only 16-years-old, leaving him to learn from the other relatives. There will be testimonials from his childhood friends offering amusing stories of Pierre, maybe naughty, maybe competitive, maybe just being Pierre, a farm boy. If he’s asked now if there was a chance he would turn into anything else but a farmer he says, “ I just don’t do wine, I manage other companies, real estate, bottling, marketing and other wine businesses, but I think I was meant to farm.”
His three children, two boys and a girl, will talk about their experience growing with a farmer as other children from their past generations have. Only theirs will be a different experience because his two sons have taken to carrying out the business end of farming. He got down and dirty; shovelling and pruning and cutting. The world has changed, he might say now. "Unlike my sons, I was thrown in the deep end of farming but my boys are handling the business side of the business now. My daughter is studying marketing."
Anybody who knew him intimately might say that Pierre always said he wanted to be successful and happy. Yes, his success will be judged by the family he raised in the four-bedroom double story house overlooking the rolling hills and what he did with the farm the men and women before him left behind. But his greatest success and legacy, it turns out, is a community centre he built four years ago for the people of Merwida Boerdery. It's the result of the Fairtrade Premium and the farm's efforts. It's a large hall which accommodates 200 people comfortably and is used for functions, training, weddings etc. There is also a creche, where we teach children in the mornings and help them stay up to standard so they can go to school when they are of age and ready. During afternoons and holidays, the aftercare teachers play and engage children. Meals are prepared. Homework is done. In other rooms, adults haunch over computers with internet access to do their tasks and research. “It’s a big dream of mine which hopefully will make the dreams of my workers and their children come true.” He says. “I never thought I’d be doing this ten years ago. I thought I’d be a farmer. Grow grapes, produce wine.”
And maybe this is also what brought him happiness, people will say. His contribution to humanity; a centre where people who work for him - 165 of them, half of them women - can get better and be better. A place for their children to enjoy. Maybe Williams Hennie, his best worker in the farm - will stand and say, ‘Pierre was more than just wine. He was also salt. The salt of the earth.”