Meet Paul Siguqa, farm labourer’s son turned wine baron
The son of a farm labourer, Paul Siguqa realised a long-held dream when he bought Klein Goederust in 2019. Now he’s building a boutique Franschhoek Valley wine farm that’s all about ubuntu, sharing fine wines and South African farm feasts.
Making a dream become reality takes a lion’s share of determination, vision and pure hard work, whoever you are. When you’re the son of a farm labourer in South Africa, even daring to dream takes all that and more. At Klein Goederust, Paul Siguqa has both dared and achieved the first part of his dream, something that as a boy growing up on nearby Backsberg Wine Farm would have seemed out of sight – he’s the first black owner of a wine farm in the Franschhoek Valley.
Arriving at Klein Goederust, the beautifully restored historic buildings, manicured gardens, rose bushes and koi pond are exactly what you’d expect of a Franschhoek wine farm. The farm dates back to 1905 with no pretensions to grandeur, but an air of quiet self-sufficiency: a pizza-slice-shaped 10 hectares between road and railway line, next door to La Motte, that belonged to two families before Siguqa bought it to become a first-generation wine farm owner. The vines reveal more of the story. It’s early spring when we visit and a vibrant green cover crop of oats dwarfs young vines that are pruned back to the barest minimum, pencil thickness, just starting to bud and waiting for the season’s warmth to grow thick and strong.
“When I was searching for a piece of land, we couldn’t afford any farms available until we found this one, but it was badly dilapidated,” says Siguqa. “It was the local crime hotspot, it had no fencing, the vineyards had a disease. No one else wanted to buy it. It needed too much work, too much time, too much money. But we knew we couldn’t afford anything better, and that we would have to put in the time.”
Having bought the land in 2019, Siguqa took out all the old vines, did soil analysis, put in drainage and fencing, and got advice on the best varietals to plant in each block, then planted anew. What we see now is the result of three years of incredibly hard work and detailed planning, the start of a lifetime’s dream.
Let’s go back a few decades – where did this dream come from, and where did Siguqa get the motivation and determination that drove him to put everything he had into creating a thriving wine farm, from dilapidated land that none of his neighbours was prepared to take on?
“My mother, Nomaroma Siguqa, worked as a farm labourer, but she said that in her family she would be the last labourer. She was the motivator,” he says. “She decided that none of us would be farm workers because there’s a lot more to be achieved in the world.
“Social mobility is possible in South Africa, but that can only happen with education – that’s what my mother insisted on. When other kids would get the coolest toys, she would get us books.”
She herself had come to Backsberg from the Eastern Cape as a girl, starting as a labourer on the farm, and later on moving into the cellar.
“There she worked with an incredible man, Hardy Laubscher, the winemaker, and he taught her everything she needed to know about making MCC. For 37 years that’s all that she did.”
Hers was the expert palate they turned to on developing their first MCC, and her advice proved spot-on – the maiden vintage of Klein Goederust Nomaroma MCC sold out within six weeks. When we taste it later it’s beautiful, dry but smooth and creamy with a subtle elegance.
“Our MCC is named after her as a tribute to her and to all the other farmworkers, and women specifically, in the wine industry.”
Siguqa studied business at Stellenbosch University and went on to work for Media24, but soon this success story changed direction.
“As an adult, moving away to the city, I had this longing and yearning to come back to the Winelands, it’s home. Working for Media24, I was already saving to buy a farm one day. But it didn’t matter how hard I worked or how good the bonuses were (and it was a very good company to work for) I could not save enough on a salary. So I started my own business up in Joburg. For 15 years I saved to buy the farm.”
It took another three years to find land that he could afford, but he was determined that it should be in the Franschhoek Valley, despite the fact that at an average of R1-million per hectare it represents some of the most expensive agricultural land in the country.
“In a town like Franschhoek you’re not just competing with people with generational wealth, you’re also competing with overseas buyers, coming with pounds, dollars and snapping it up as a lifestyle.” And he was determined to do it all himself. Finding Klein Goederust, and gradually convincing the previous owners that he would be the right person to succeed them and respect the heritage of the farm, made that possible.
“The nice thing is we do not have bank debt that chases us to do things quicker, we can take our time. We don’t have investors pressuring us to skip on quality or move things forward more quickly. We decide. We’re not going to harvest until the quality of the grapes justifies it. What’s already in our bottles is of high quality.”
He’s pitched his wine range at the upmarket, boutique end of the market, keeping production small and the wines elegant. “Rodney is amazing in the cellar – he gets that the wines must be delicious and enjoyable. We don’t want wines that are over-intellectual, over-complicated.”
Rodney Zimba, his winemaker, was a childhood friend. He grew up next door to Siguqa and has many years of experience as farm manager and winemaker at Noble Hill.
“In 2016 I approached him with this idea of finding a piece of land and he said, ‘I believe so much in what you want to do, I will join you on this crazy journey’.”
Together they developed a concept of the wines they wanted to make, based on the varietals the terroir was best suited for. At the same time as planting new vines, they started making their first wines using bought grapes, hiring space in neighbours’ cellars. They currently produce five wines: the Nomaroma MCC, a chenin blanc, a shiraz, a cabernet/merlot blend, and a noble late harvest. They expect to have a first harvest next year of their mourvèdre (destined for a celebratory new rosé) and then in 2024 will be able to start winemaking across the range with their own grapes.
Sipping the really superb, beautifully fresh, and elegantly fruity chenin blanc (Siguqa is a particular fan of chenin), we look at the label design, which is full of symbolism.
“Some of my friends in the north, ones I call the peacetime revolutionaries, said, ‘how, as the first black-owner in the area, can you call your place Klein Goederust?’ My answer was simple. We did not name the place, we found it here. We need to embrace the history of this place but also bring in our own identity.” He added the emblem of a Southern ground hornbill (or insingizi, the clan totem of his Nziphazi Magoba ancestors) to the farm logo, where it stands on a fleur de lys representing Franschhoek’s French ancestry. And the date of the farm’s foundation, 1905.
“It would not make sense to me to take away that history and put Siguqa Wines there. Those same revolutionaries, if you put a bottle of Klein Goederust on a shelf next to a bottle labelled Siguqa Wines, they’d buy the Klein Goederust. It’s our past – you must remember there aren’t many black-owned wine farms, so somewhere in the back of the mind they’re thinking, ‘do they know what they’re doing?’”
This policy of maintaining a connection with the farm’s history extends to the sensitive restoration of the buildings – the original barn doors on the tasting room have been stripped, restored and rehung; the old stable, which doubled as a dop room (dop being the reprehensible system of paying farm workers in part with wine, which persisted on many farms, despite being outlawed in the ’60s, until the ban was finally enforced in 1990s) retains its manger, now a bar counter; the airy tasting room reveals the original bricks along one wall, the concrete wine tanks on the other, with high, beamed ceilings, everything beautifully polished and finished.
It took Siguqa over two years of renovation, landscaping, replanting and rebuilding before he finally opened his gates to the public on 3 December 2021. “I didn’t want my clients to come here and say, ‘Ag shame, these black guys, they’re trying…’” he says with a laugh. “I wanted them to come and sit in a beautiful set-up like all the other farms, and compete on equal footing, and judge my wines on the quality.”
We’ve been chatting outdoors in the immaculate tasting room garden with views of the mountains on both sides, extending along to the Langrug informal settlement clinging to the steep slopes above Franschhoek village. “People have said why don’t you plant trees to screen the view of the township. I said no, I want to see the township on a daily basis and I want my visitors to see the township. Those are the people who work on the farms.”
Reconnecting with the local community from the start was important to Siguqa, from seeking mentorship from the owners of neighbouring La Motte, to working with local artisans on the restoration of the farm, and in hiring staff.
“We’ve built very close ties with the community. We will hire from the township and give them an opportunity to excel. We’re probably one of the poorest farms but we are rich in culture, rich in the people we have. Almost everyone has some sort of historical link – I know their parents, or their parents know my parents, or I used to play soccer with this one.”
Before we set off to walk around the vineyards, rich aromas of roasting meat draw us to the spitbraai outside the old homestead, now the restaurant. Chef Brent Malander is busy basting a whole lamb as it turns, a tray of potatoes underneath catching the rosemary scented drippings, while his team deftly turn roosterkoek (bread rolls) over the coals of another fire. The lamb is the centrepiece of a three course buffet lunch menu based on South African farm classics, which they serve Friday to Sunday in winter, adding Wednesdays and Thursdays in summer.
“The food needs to feel and taste like home,” says Siguqa. “We can’t all do fine dining. We wanted something different, so now we’re known as the place with lamb on the spit. It’s a celebratory thing. You cannot have lamb on a spit alone, it needs to be shared with people.”
The original menu of classic starters, salads and sides with a few creative twists was dreamed up by Linda Abrahams. “Aunty Linda is very special to us. She used to work with our parents on the same farm and we all knew if you want the most delicious food you go to Aunty Linda’s,” Siguqa says. “She’d always wanted to be a chef, so when we started the restaurant, we got her out of retirement and said, ‘there’s a kitchen, be a chef’.”
Aunty Linda’s response was, “Just so I can tick the box and have it in my obituary, I’ll come for three months and design the menu.” She ended up staying for six months until her knees started giving her problems and she retired again, but she still pops by. Her recipes live on in the delicately spiced pickled fish that is a stalwart of the starter buffet table, and a truly luscious sweet potato roll in a caramel sauce. This features on the hot buffet menu of substantial sides – alongside creamy spiced cauliflower, roast vegetables, a lentil curry potjie, jasmine rice – that you’re invited to pile high on your plate before heading outdoors to the spit, where the chef generously slices your choice of cut directly on to your plate, with some of the lamb-basted roast potatoes.
But it’s still too early for lunch, the lamb has been turning slowly on the spit since 8am and needs another hour or so before lunch service starts, so Siguqa takes us on a tour of the vines. The first block is chenin blanc followed by the chardonnay destined for the MCC. Between these and the farm buildings there’s an unplanted patch of land and Siguqa reveals that he’s got bigger dreams still to realise. “There will be a hotel here one day,” he says, describing his vision. “Simple, with a verandah, luxurious but not ostentatious. We’ve kept this space open. We don’t have the money, we don’t know how we’ll do it, but one day we’ll build a hotel. You have to dream it. If you have the energy and the will you’ve halfway won the battle.”
But before the hotel in his grand plan comes a working cellar, which he hopes to build in the next two years, ready to gather in the first full harvests of his own grapes for pressing in 2024. This site is also left vacant, next to established olive trees planted by the previous owners, from which they harvest their own olive oils.
Strolling back to the homestead, we meet Siguqa’s wife, Makhosazana Zwani-Siguqa (Khosi), who he first met at business school when working for Media 24. Now editor-in-chief at True Love magazine she’s on a pressing deadline, so we just share a quick greeting. She declines any of the credit for the farm, but Siguqa insists he couldn’t have done it without her.
“Khosi was involved in the aesthetics, the look and feel, she still is our style guide. When I presented her with the idea, she laughed and said, ‘A wine farm, why don’t we just buy taxis and have a shisanyama like other black people, do you really want to do this? And do you understand the hardship you will face as a new entrant being first generation, the money you’ll need to invest, and most importantly the toll it can take on you emotionally?’ I said ‘yes, only if you’ll support me’, and she said, ‘let’s do it’. That kind of support is something incredible and I’m truly grateful to her.”
Before we settle down on comfortable hand-stitched leather chairs on the verandah for a substantial feast that more than lives up to the promise of the appetising aromas from the spit, and a leisurely afternoon of sipping our way through the excellent wines while drinking in views of mountains and spring sunshine dappling through the old oak trees, Siguqa has a few final words: “To us owning the farm has nothing to do with achievement or status. It’s to do with wanting to change the narrative. We want to say to children of farm workers: there’s a much greater eco-system to be part of, you can be so much more. You can be a winemaker, work in a lab, do wine analysis, soil analysis, be a viticulturist, look at plant health.” Or own a wine farm, if you really dream big. Siguqa laughs, “You need to be entrepreneurial to make it happen, and also have a little bit of braveness… and a little bit of madness.” DM/TGIFood
Read more about Klein Goederust Boutique Winery.
Follow Kit Heathcock on Instagram @kitheathcock
The writer supports Isabelo Charity, founded by chef Margot Janse in 2009 and providing nutritious meals to Franschhoek school children.