Fredo and Janey last week attended the launch of our book, 125 Years in Pursuit of Excellence, which we wrote during the past two years for the South African Table Grape Industry. At the event Fredo was asked to describe this epic journey.

We thought we would share our thoughts.

Where do you start to tell a story of experiences stretching over 50 years, 18 months of intense research and writing, of 100 000 words?

I think we should start with the world of Writers – that creative breed of people – who when all else fails, stand their ground – to tell the story honestly and truthfully – and with passion.

And then one can hardly start at a better place than quoting from the writings of one of the first South African writers on the subject of table grapes – delivered with creativity and humility in this book. Delivered in honest recognition that there is the Greater Hand which guides us and our industry every day.

From Johanna Brandt’s Grape Cure – written in the 1920’s:

Entitled – In my Father’s Vineyard

“Nearly two thousand years ago Someone loved to stress the importance of the Vine. His first miracle was the changing of water into wine. His last public act was the abolition of the sacrifice of blood (Death) and the introduction of the Sacrament of wine (Life). “I am the true Vine”, He said.”

Then she says we may not understand the significance of this illustration – but that does not matter. In the 1920’s people used the telephone without really knowing how this instrument worked. But then she reached the following conclusion:

“Let us then be content to know that the Fruit of the Vine was recommended by the Highest Authority.”
In this she captured the entire essence of the vine.

And then we must turn to another of our great writers – a plea from Archbishop Tutu in this book which is so relevant for South Africa in the present times we are living in:

“The art of forgiveness is that we all need to learn what forgiving is all about. Attaining genuine honest forgiveness is a powerful way to close the door on the past and take hands to walk into the future.”

Yes, indeed, honest, and inspirational.

If you wondered why I started with this angle to talk about the journey we followed in this book, you will now know that we dedicate this book to the fearless writers of our country – who work day and night, sometimes in extreme danger – true and honestly – to bring people to account.

Without them one wonders where South Africa would have been today. Much deeper over the precipice.

Our biggest challenge in this book was to match the creativity of writers with the expectations entrusted on us by the needs of those in the industry – often only because of political correctness or other requirements – and to still produce a work which is authentic and true. It was a real challenge and at times extremely frustrating.

First comprehensive publication of this kind in 35 years in South African fruit industry

It was indeed the first publication of its kind in 35 years in the South African fruit sector. The South African table grape industry deserves praise for the courage to embark on this venture – and therefore to demonstrate that the past is as important as the future.

At times it was a lonely journey – made so much more bearable by having Janey by my side – from the writer to the associate – there is not enough words to say thank you. You are an inspiration!

Finally we arrived at the end – a publication which meets all the different requirements – and should be a good read in the table grape industry, fruit industry, export companies and service industries, the government and in international circles.

Talking about special moments?

It is difficult not to say too much and spoil the read. At some point in the book we write about a desperate Paarl Grape Association chairman who was worried about the knowledge of his fellow growers. So he encouraged his fellow growers to spend the cold winter’s evenings to read research bulletins from the research institutes so that they could at least broaden their knowledge. He reckoned that that would have kept them out of serious trouble.

So what do you have to look for?

Firstly – in the attempt to find the origins and report on the oldest varieties – we draw the conclusion which is vital in terms of the history of the total fruit industry. The modest Cape Hanepoot variety could be the oldest fruit consumed after the South African fruit industry’s founding at the Cape some 360 years ago. We even search for a South African ancestor because we knew that people lived in this part of the world much longer before the arrival of the first Westeners in these parts.

We wrote about the amazing work of the early pioneers – even more remarkable because they were such professionals nearly 100 years ago. It seems that the more things change the more they stay the same.

Our journey through the fruit regions was a very enjoyable experience, the enthusiasm of the people we met, the incredible changes we witnessed. We had access to remarkable early writings of amazing story tellers – one that comes to mind is the remarkable Mr Ruben de Villiers from the Hex River Valley.

We met and learnt from two of the doyens of the industry – the senior citizens – AAT HOEKSTRA AND MARTIN VAN NIEKERK, one in his late eighties and the other in his nineties – still much in command of their farms and businesses.

We wrote about good times and bad ones, war and peace – the dark days of sanctions and the joy of the world’s markets opening up as Nelson Mandela lead us to a new dawn.

We also touch on singing the praises of the table grape – acclaimed writer Louis Leipoldt and his writings about food and grapes – and also Johanna Brandt’s incredible story in the first half of the previous century when she was in fact cured from stomach cancer through the grape diet.

Eventually when we were finished – in our own minds the questions arose. What about the future?

Will we in 30 years’ time again pause in this way to assess our past and look to the future, will the past then still be important enough to remember, will the industry still be growing like it is today?

Or will events such as climate change dictate our future – will we have to developed table grape cultivars which will still produce such excellent products but require only half the amount of water we have the luxury of using today?

Can we afford to look only 5 years ahead in our planning?

One thing is sure – the older generation which shaped the past 40 years or so, will not be there and the younger generations will have to provide the answers.

The work of this writer – in this case – is now done. It is time for us to sit back and page through this book – from start to finish – with a great deal of satisfaction.