The Agricultural Writers SA has named Western Cape producers Mr Charles Back and Mr Warren Bam as the national Farmer of the Year and national Best New Entrant Into Commercial Farming 2017 respectively.
Charles Back has built Fairview in Paarl from a family farm to a brand internationally known for its wine, cheese and tourism. His series of wines, as well as his cheeses, are awarded the top local and international awards every year. However, what truly distinguishes Charles as a farmer, is his personal involvement in all his farming operations, his drive and in particular his capacity to identify new trends before it becomes mainstream. Charles has the ability to farm with innovation – whether it involves sustainable farming management, empowering employees, brand development or ever-growing visitor experiences.
Charles is a man of many firsts. They were the first to import new wine grapes varieties such as Viognier, Tempranillo, Tannat, Sangiovese and Petite Sirah to South Africa. Charles was also one of the first producers to make land and company ownership a reality for farm workers. Following the collapse of sanctions, he initiated international wine marketing and sales and was the founder of the first “critter” wine brand in South Africa – an international top seller (Goats do Roam). He also established the first goat milk factory in South Africa. Charles is recognized by Carbon Protocol of South Africa for his carbon neutral factory.
One of the best known and visible milestones is South Africa’s first Goat Tower, that played a major role in establishing wine tourism in the country with Fairview and Spice Route as top wine tourism destinations in the Western Cape. Charles was named the second most influential man in the South African wine industry after Nelson Mandela by the South African magazine WINE in 1996.
While agriculture was his first love, Warren after school decided to rather study marketing at the Cape Peninsula Technicon and later Unisa. He started out in retail, but later found himself in construction, where he learnt skills such as administration, cost planning, tender management and contracting that proved handy later in his farming career.
In 2002, Warren’s path crossed that of Breda van Niekerk’s, the owner of Lushof’s son who used to play with him when they were children. The two rekindled their friendship and after two years, Breda, in spite of Warren’s lack of farming experience, decided to appoint Warren as farm manager at Lushof near Saron.
Warren knew nothing about farming when he started out at Lushof, which at the time produced 47 ha of table grapes and 40 ha of wine grapes, but he proved to be a quick learner. The farm was sold to Stephen Taylor’s business, Dreammaker Fruits in 2006, resulting in the wine grapes being replaced by blueberries. Under the employment of Taylor, Warren got opportunities to visit overseas supermarkets and farms to gain valuable production and market insights.