2020 was definitely the one that we didn’t see coming. As per usual and with true South African optimism we began this year with much anticipation and focus, eager to build on the good sales growth of 2019 and grateful for the first increase in the size of our harvest (still a mere 45% of a normal harvest) since start of the ongoing drought. We also felt revitalized with the appointment of a brand new winemaker and bistro manager who brought with them a fresh sense of purpose, energy and creativity. Of course, no one could’ve predicted the year to turn out the way it did. And while the current situation is definitely on a more upward slope than a few months ago, this year has no doubt left its mark. The uncertainty at times has been overwhelming. Everyone faced and continues to face unique and personal challenges and we will most likely only see and feel the consequences of this pandemic and hard lockdown in the months and year to come.
An American- Swiss psychiatrist first defined the five different stages of grief back in the late sixties. It was around the last stage of acceptance where the strong urge to fight prevailed. It was sink or swim – financially and emotionally, as a business, as a team and as individuals. Our entire bistro, tasting room and local wines sales were on shutdown with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Although De Krans Wines is a small business, through the years we have all become a big family at De Krans. We have 29 permanent employees and while our number one priority was and remains to ensure their health and safety, we also realized our responsibility was to keep our family together and to prevent job losses at all costs, as far as possible. Secondary to our goal to prevent loss of income was to keep our tasting room and bistro staff productively occupied. A deep cleanse, some paintwork and small jobs such as varnishing the bistro tables only managed to keep everyone busy for a few weeks, and staff members were left feeling not only a deep sense of frustration, but also left questioning their purpose and ability to contribute going forward. It remains debatable how this project really started and who started it but looking back it all seems that it was “meant to be”, and that it is hard to imagine a starting point at all.
With the obvious commitment as a business to significantly cut costs in order to survive going forward, we were initially stuck with what we had. Items like old oak barrels, corks, empty wine bottles, and of course vines were in abundance. Creativity and probably a sense of urgency paved the way to our creative project. Using these recycled items ended up being fittingly metaphorical for adapting to this curveball of a year – using the hand you were dealt with, and somehow finding the inspiration and grit to make something beautiful and something useful out of it. The bistro and tasting room team got together and started creating the most beautiful products. Of course, like any creative process, there were failures, disagreements, try again and try again, perseverance, determination and a common goal – to be productive, keep busy, keep our jobs, and to build, in a time when it seemed like everything else was falling apart.
The beauty of this project evidently doesn’t lie in the carefully hand made products or the creative process behind it, but in the skills learned, the skills taught, the mistakes made, the development of new hidden talents and the empowerment of an entire team. These handmade products were made by someone who packs the wine, who makes the delicious sauce to accompany the lamb shank or the veteran tasting room manager – not by craftsmen, not by professionals. In this year of complete uncertainty and severe challenges, we have found there to be beauty in trying and grace in imperfection.
While we struggled to find a name for the project, it came to us at around the same time we realized there will be no blossom festival this year. Like so many other festivals and important events this year, cancellation seemed inevitable. However, while life in lockdown has definitely slowed everyone down a bit, life on a farm never really does. Our vineyards and fruit trees have remained blissfully ignorant of our current reality and pruning the vines for the 2021 harvest has carried on with no interruption as have the apricot blossoms. It is perhaps here where the biggest lesson of all can be learned – that like the seasons, life indeed goes on and that it is our duty and our privilege to adapt, grow and look forward with expectation and hope. As a result, our De Krans Blossom Project was born. Because life goes on, life is beautiful, bloom where you are planted, and all that.
Our Way Forward
Our hope is that what started as a rescue project (in terms of perspective more than practicality) will be able to translate into an ongoing winter project during the months when it is an usually quiet time for the bistro and tasting room teams. With ample possibilities, we are so excited to see where we can go with this project. We also look forward to keeping positively contributing to the issue of pollution, by continuing to largely use recycled items. Please also take into consideration that our products are currently only available at the farm (not online, yet) and that they are subject to availability. This is a new territory for us – please bear with us patiently.
We would also like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude for all the support over the last few months. With the absence of international tourists we humbly became almost completely reliant on our local customers to help us get through this challenging time and we want to thank you for your continued and loyal support, especially taking into account that this pandemic also hit us in a time where we are still struggling to recover from the ongoing drought in the Klein Karoo region.
We were also especially grateful for the extremely positive reaction following our social media posts in joining the #jobssavelives campaign. It was heart-warming to see so many offering support and enquiring how they could help us in any way. We are truly thankful for every word of encouragement, visit to the bistro and deli and interaction on social media. We can’t wait to share these beautiful products with you and to welcome you back on the farm. From our De Krans family to yours – stay safe and stay strong. We will meet again, soon.
We are extremely grateful to be able to say that since the lockdown started in March we have managed to keep all 29 permanent staff members employed, who are in turn financially responsible for 120 family members. We realize that not every business with this intent was able to follow through and we are so grateful that we were able to fulfil this goal. While our entire team volunteered ideas, suggestions, opinions, and critique; this project was mainly driven by Deon van der Bank (bistro chef) and Heletje Viljoen (tasting room manager), with the following team members contributing to the project:
Bettie Wagener (Dolla)