As a small boy growing up on Simonsig Wine Estate, Denzel was restless. He wanted to see what was out there, he wanted to learn, he wanted to be different and make a difference.
His father was a foreman on the farm and his mother a domestic worker, so there was no money for agricultural college or tertiary education. But through sport, Denzel took part in events around the province and slowly began to realise that there was a big world out there with exciting opportunities.
After matriculating, he secured a job in the Simonsig Tasting Room where he was mentored by the inimitable Maureen Basson, Tasting Manager at Simonsig for over 30 years. “She taught me about customer service and enabled me to talk about wine with confidence,” says Denzel, who then spent 2 years in the company’s export department. “Although I learnt a lot,” he continues, “I was frustrated by the lack of progress for coloured people like myself.”
So he left and joined Youth Unlimited, an international Catholic organisation involved in youth development. He became a mentor at the camps run by the Edmund Rice NGO helping vulnerable tweens and teens develop life skills and build confidence, eventually becoming an Assistant Co-ordinator. This resulted in a trip to Australia in 2008 where a million young adults from around the world gathered to exchange ideas and learn from one another.
“But Maureen always kept tabs on me,” he grins, which resulted in him re-joining the Simonsig Tasting Room in 2012. In 2013 Denzel attended a 2 year, part-time management training course at WineTech. “Initially there was no management job waiting for me at Simonsig, but when I finished my training it was decided that Maureen would move into Tourist Development and that I would take over her job managing the Tasting Room though still being mentored by her.”
After 3 years Denzel is still loving his job. With 6 staff, 6 casuals and about 25 000 visitors annually, he has to ensure they stay on top of their game. “I have a good spread of men, women, white, coloured and black,” he explains. “We complement each other and learn from each other, but we can also give the customers the service they require.”
“I select my staff on their value system, not on their skills. Skills can be learned, but values will determine whether you will be able to work as a team and meet the customer’s needs.”
Denzel is still involved in Youth Unlimited. He has taken his mentorship a step further by creating the Sonofthesoil Leadership Foundation where he mentors 4 teenagers from Mitchells Plain, a township near Cape Town. His intention is to help them reach their true potential, his short-term goal being to get them to the next Youth Unlimited meeting in Panama in 2019. Denzel has been to 4 such meetings so far, his first in Australia, and then also Spain, Brazil and Poland, so he is keen to share this life-changing experience with them.
Denzel is determined to make an impact on the wine industry. He is a director on the board of the VinPro Foundation and also a mentor at the Pinotage Academy (PYDA). He feels that while there are more opportunities than when he started out, especially in training, these people are not moving up the ladder as fast as he would like. But instead of being critical, Denzel has jumped in boots and all, determined to make that difference and keep the momentum of change.
To find out more about Denzel’s mentorship programme and how to help visit https://sonofthesoilwines.wixsite.com/leadershipfoundation