Tania Kleintjies: The Generational Success Story of a Five Star Winemaker

Tania Kleintjes-Moses is a five star winemaker and the product of a great grandfather who made a very important decision. A farmworker during the horrid apartheid days where they were forced to accept alcohol as payment, he decided that he won’t accept the alcohol. At the time, he did not realise that this one decision would have a ripple effect, spanning over several decades and producing three generations of success.

Born and raised in Worcester, Tania is the youngest of 3 siblings, a rebellious kid whose mom and dad were both teachers. She might have been rebellious, but she was by no means, a bad kid. The Worcester Gymnasium learner’s dedication to maintaining high academic standards was on full display when she matriculated in 2001 with 6 distinctions.

Being a rebel, she wanted to study something different from what was expected of her. She loved science and nature, so she studied towards a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, focusing on Viticulture and Oenology with Chemistry. This basically means that she focused on the science behind grapes and the creation of wine. She graduated in 2005 and went on to complete a Masters degree. She confesses that she did not think that the study of grapes would be hard but she was wrong and to this day, she is still learning.

While completing her Masters, she also applied for jobs and as every graduate knows, it was not a pleasant experience. She managed to secure two job interviews, both of which she did not get. However, being someone who always sees the positive in every situation, she states that “God’s timing was perfect in this regard”. “My mom passed in 2007 and if I were to get one of those jobs, I wouldn’t have been able to spend as much time with my mom while she was sick,” says Tania. Three months after her mom passed, she was interviewed at Spier Wine Farm and starting her new job as an assistant red winemaker.

Tania spent the next 5 years working hard to prove herself and her efforts were rewarded with a promotion to ‘Quality Control Manager and Oenologist’. This was followed by another promotion to the position of manager for the organic winemaking process. After a while, she wanted to get back to being a winemaker and asked her boss if she could be appointed to the position of organic winemaker. This is a job that requires a specific attention to detail and Tania had built a reputation as someone who is meticulous. She started her new job as the organic winemaker in November 2015 and has not looked back.

Tania’s first range of wines has already received the kind of recognition that is only afforded to the country’s top winemakers. The 2019 Platter wine guide awarded four-and-a-half stars to her 2016 Spier Farm House Organic Rose and five stars for her 2016 Spier Farm House Organic Chenin Blanc. Five stars are the highest rating awarded to wines. The now prominent winemaker was also asked to act as a judge at two national wine competitions.

The 36 year old Tania is still a rebel and not afraid to speak her mind. She feels that the industry is dominated by white males and that the industry’s few women and persons of colour have already brought substantial change and creativity. She goes as far as calling the industry a ‘white boys club’ but she does feel that things are changing. In the very least, she hopes that her presence will open up doors for the new generation of women and people of colour. Of course, Tania’s contribution to the transformation of the industry might not have happened, had her great grandfather not made that ‘very important decision’.

At a family reunion, she was told of how her ‘groot oupa Visser’ (great-grandpa Visser) gave up drinking. Petrus ‘Pietman’ Visser worked in the vineyards in McGregor and like most farmworkers at the time, he was paid with the dopstelsel. The dopstelsel was a system during apartheid whereby, instead of wages, farmers forced their workers to take alcohol as payment. They were ‘paid’ with a tot of alcohol, once every day, at the end of each working day. This resulted in mass alcoholism and the effects of this system are still evident in the Coloured community.
One evening, Petrus’ sister saw him drunk and said that she doesn’t want to see him like that again. Her words filled him with shame and it was in that moment that he gave up drinking. It was this one decision that led to his family becoming a beacon of success. Petrus eventually became a preacher at the Methodist Church and made sure that all of his kids became educated and more importantly, made sure that none of them worked in the toxic vineyards run by sadistic and greedy farmers. His son, who is Tania’s grandfather, became a teacher and headmaster, and this filtered through to the next two generations. Tania’s father became a teacher and raised three kids who became a teacher, a food technologist and of course, a five star winemaker.
Tania says that her great grandfather’s story made her realise that one decision can shape your life and all of the generations that follow. “It could have been so different if it wasn’t for that one right decision,” says Tania.  “What do I want my children to be part of? What legacy do I want to leave behind? Will my family and generations after me be proud to call me their ancestor? Every choice and challenge I am faced with, I try to channel groot oupa Visser.”

For those wanting to emulate her success, she has very simple advice. She says that you should get experience in different areas of the industry to broaden your understanding. Join a tasting group or start one yourself. Tasting wine is an art you cannot learn off pages of a book. She says that you should be diligent, study hard, experience as many new things as possible and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The mother of two says quite bluntly that, as a woman, you will have to be smarter and work harder than your male counterpart. It is even harder if you’re a woman of colour.

“Although there has been a lot of progress in the industry, it is still very much a boys’ club and it is quite difficult to make a name for yourself as a woman of colour,” says Tania. “You are either seen as a publicity stunt or BEE appointment.” She recounts an incident where one of the producers in Slanghoek Valley family described her as, “die BEE wynmakertjie aanstelling” (the BEE winemaker appointment). “To this day, when I do tastings or shows, I am told I don’t look like a winemaker,” says Tania. “I still feel I have to prove why I am where I am EVERY DAY which is sad but true”. Despite these ingrained problems of racism and sexism, Tania still firmly believes you should “stop being a victim of your circumstances and create the future that you want, now”. “You have to work towards your goals, fight for what you want and not wait for handouts and opportunities to come your way. Go and get them!”

Every great story starts with a one-person making the right decision. Tania’s story started several decades before she was born, when her great grandpa Visser decided that he would not allow himself to be trapped by apartheid’s cycle of alcoholism. Three generations later, his decision led to the spawning of an academically astute young lady named Tania, who went on to become an acclaimed young winemaker and a mother of kids who will someday speak of their heritage with pride. The story that could have been told was that of a generational cycle of poverty and alcoholism. Instead, thanks to the decision made by groot oupa Visser, a different story is told, that of generational success.

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