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Cape Town’s urban vineyard could revitalize the city’s poor

November 24, 2016 at 6:10 PM EDT
South Africa is known for its breathtaking vineyards -- but the poor urban settlements of Cape Town are not. Yet here, too, farmers are relying on growing grapes to support themselves, in a community where the average annual income is only $1800. The Township Winery represents an experiment that could revolutionize the socio-economics of the city. Special correspondent Martin Seemungal reports.

JOHN YANG: From food to drink, our Thanksgiving meal theme continues with a story about a new vintage from South Africa.
Special correspondent Martin Seemungal brings us the story of some fledgling vintners trying their hands at the ancient craft in the unlikeliest of places.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:  South Africa`s breathtaking vineyards near Cape Town, perfectly manicured estates spreading for miles in every direction, famous for world class wines.  But a world away, from the sprawling townships on the outskirts of the city — infamous for forced resettlement of mixed race and black South Africans, for crime and poverty — you have to look pretty hard to find a common link — but it is there, one little square among a sea of shacks: a man planting a vineyard.
Manelisi Mapukata is part of an innovative collective; growing wine grapes in small plots that will one day make wine. `The township winery started production using grapes from those traditional winemaking areas, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinotage, but the labels are unique…  The Flats, Philippi, names from this part of town.  Ultimately, more and more of the grapes will come from these tiny township plots.
MANELISI MAPUKATA, Vineyard Farmer:  I feel proud about it because if just give me enough time also I will learn more about grapes.  How it`s important to have in our townships.  People can learn.  People can come to visit also to see what is happening.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: The vines he is planting here won`t actually be ready to bear fruit for another three years, but after that, he will have a guaranteed harvest every year, and that means a guaranteed income.
That guaranteed income is an enormously important project to the farmers.  Many have spent years growing and selling vegetables and have been at the mercy of fluctuating prices.  Those empty rows in a section of this small plot will soon be growing grapes and ultimately earn annually as much as all vegetables combined.
Lulama says it will change their lives.
LULAMA, Vineyard Farmer:  It means that we want to generate more income so that we can put bread on the table for our children and the generations to come.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: They stand to double what they are making now.  The average income here is roughly $1,800 a year.  Easy to understand why people are energized, why word is spreading.
Nomhle Zondani is marketing the Township Winery internationally, and here in South Africa, she also has to manage expectations among these first time growers.
NOMHLE ZONDANI, Marketer, The Township Winery:  Its not going to be an easy money making scheme.  You`re not going to get rich in like two years.  So, within that five years, you will get exposure.  We will bring people to say this is an idea that we have we would love to grow it and after five years, we would then we will have this whatever grape we can harvest from those vines.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Graham Knox is an expert with years of experience at all levels of winemaking, now a key partner in the township winery.  Hard as it is to believe he says the soil in these townships is perfect for wine grapes.
GRAHAM KNOX, The Township Winery:  To grow vines in the townships brings a response of surprise, incredulousness.  And this is an opportunity to take the land that`s in the township that doesn`t have that huge price tag to enable the ladies to benefit from their works to make a living from growing vines and grapes in a way that is completely impossible in Stellenbosch.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Stellenbosch — about an hour away — is home to some of South Africa`s premier wine estates.  Warwick is one of them, a pioneer in its own right.  Nearly 40 years ago, Warwick`s Norma Ratcliffe was one of the first women to make wine in South Africa.
NORMA RATCLIFFE, Warwick Wine Estate:  I started with six barrels of wine, and I went through all the stages that they will go through, and a part of being a woman winemaker in those days was novelty.  Part of their project is novelty which will take them quite far as well.  People come they want to have a look.  Hey, these guys are doing something neat.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: The plan is to showcase that novelty by converting this old cement factory in one of the townships to a winery Knox hopes that in a few years time, it will be ready to process the grapes that will be harvested here.
GRAHAM KNOX: And start to come in to those big windows.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: He says it will be the focal point of the township winery project.
GRAHAM KNOX: People who drink wine absolutely love to visit wineries.  International press and wine traders are fascinated by the idea that we want to grow grapes in the township.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: And there is more to this story than the novelty of growing grapes in the township and the economic benefits it will provide.  For decades black and mixed race south Africans were the laborers in the wine estates.  With only a few exceptions, ownership has remained in white hands.
Arlene Van Wyk says her father and grandfather were wine farm workers.  She says the idea of being a winegrower was always an impossible dream.  But now, she`s preparing the ground to plant her own vineyard.
ARLENE VAN WYK, Vineyard Farmer:  I`ve been waiting all my life.  I`ve been poor all my life.  So, now, today, even the farm workers kids can even now become farmers.
For me, there`s a big change in the last 30 years.  There`s a lot of white people out there that wants to help us as colored people and black people.  The more doors it will open, more of our black people will have opportunity to have our own vineyards, our own wine cellars and obviously sell the best wines.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Norma Ratcliffe understands the impact apartheid had and believes this is an important step.
NORMA RATCLIFFE:  I think its going to give these people a lot more than a stake.  I think its going to give them a bit of upliftment.  It`s going to say I`m doing something and I`m worth something.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Lulama has turned a dusty corner of Guletu Township into an oasis of hope, and she is deeply proud, even though it is in the middle of a poor township.
LULAMA:  I don`t think the beauty of the place matters.  What matters is that you do what you want to do.  You want to succeed.  You want to reach your goals.
MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: They understand success will not come easy.  But these new winegrowers — in the most unlikely of places are determined to get there — one tiny vineyard at a time.
For the “PBS NewsHour”, I`m Martin Seemungal in Cape Town.