BITTER GRAPES Documentary – An Exemplary Cooperation


The revealing story in the documentary BITRE DRUER (SOUR GRAPES) about the slave-like conditions for vineyard workers in South Africa, is a textbook example of a cooperation in Nordic investigative journalism at its best, according to editor Fredrik Laurin from SVT’s Uppdrag Granskning (UG). 

By: Henrik Hartmann

The last decade has seen a sharp rise in wine imports from South Africa, especially in Denmark and Sweden. In Denmark, imports have risen by 78 % and Systembolaget in Sweden
is now South Africa’s 3rd biggest wine customer. Wine from South Africa is cheap and consumers love it, but there’s a dark side to the story.

Tom Heinemann, the investigating journalist from Denmark, has produced several documentaries for Nordic public service companies. Recently, while completing another programme series for Nordvision, he got a tip about slave-like conditions for vineyard workers in several of South Africa’s vineyards. With development funding from SVT and DR Sales, he took
a research trip to South Africa. What he saw and heard con rmed the tip. The working and living conditions for vineyard labourers was unacceptable. He pitched the story to the investigative journalist group in Nordvision, and then received production support from DR, NRK and SVT, from Danida (Dansk development aid) and resources from the Nordvision fund.

Thorough Research 

Heinemann and his photographer Lotte la Cour went to South Africa three times to gather stories and cover wine production from start to nish: spraying, harvesting and cutting. Heinemann says:

“When we had identi ed where some of the wine that ends up in the Nordics came from, we went around visiting the relevant vineyards to talk to former and current employees Getting 

permission to lm was hard right from the start Everywhere we went we were refused entry and we had to work with really tiny cameras so as not to cause alarm ”
Before the third and nal production trip, Heinemann sent questions around to all the farms he wanted to visit and owners he wanted to interview. The response was an audible silence. None of the managers wanted to meet the TV crew.

Thorough Safety 

Safety precautions on the nal trip had to be thorough because a few months previously a couple of SVT journalists had been imprisoned in Zambia. It is also not unusual for people and journalists to be attacked in South Africa.

Fredrik Laurin, chief editor at UG, explains:

“We equipped Tom and his photographer with a project phone that had a tracking function, which we use in situations that may involve threats or where we know we have to be extra careful They used the phone daily and checked in regularly to report where they were and what was happening Back in the editorial o ce at UG in Gothenburg, we monitored the tra c from the project phone and talked to them about the di erent conditions ” 

It was particularly at the end, when two of the vineyard owners – with intervention from the national wine certi cation label entity – agreed to meet the TV crew that the situation grew very tense. The two vineyard owners had come only to make threats and to tell the journalists o . They had no intention of being involved in the programme.

Cooperation Between Danish External Producer
and Uppdrag Granskning (SVT)
Fredrik Laurin at UG in SVT can’t see any particular di erence between whether a project is in-house, outsourced or with a Swedish or Danish producer. He explains:
“We follow quite a strict, established pattern with the editor, reporter and the ‘devil’s advocate,’ who reviews the entire script line by line in a set standardised form where all factual information and controversial conditions must have a footnote and be fully sourced with further supportive evidence ” 

Major Debate in Sweden 

SVT were delighted with the story about the South Africa wine and reactions to the documentary resulted in an almost bigger debate in Sweden than in Denmark. Laurin says:
“We had a major debate in Sweden, which is slightly unusual 

for a UG project Part of the reason was that Systembolaget and the importer, who also represents Robertson Winery, chose a proactive press style and commented on and denied information before we released it This raised the expectations of the programme and awareness in other media ” 

Heinemann was also pleased with the documentary and has spent over a month being interviewed by varioius international and South African medias:
“I think this lm will have a major impact We can already see how several South African authorities have highlighted a long list of conditions in the South African wine industry, all of which are being criticised My local contacts and trade unions in South Africa tell me that our lm is a gamechanger when it comes to changing working and living conditions for the better” 

Recipe for Nordic Success 

Laurin sees major bene ts in Nordvision being able to work cooperatively on such complex productions, in which investigative stories invariably are.
“Being able to cooperate when you have subject matters that are universal or have cross-national interests, is only ever positive We can do it cheaper and maybe even better Personally, I think BITRE DRUER is a textbook example of how it should be done ” 

BITRE DRUER is Heinemann ́s fth Nordic co-production show in 10 years. He explains: “I know that the Nordic documentary editorial team wants a national angle That’s why it’s important to have a universal story, but also a story with a thread that leads to two or more Nordic countries As a producer you need to be able to deliver a modular story so that each documentary team can tailor it to create their own national version of the programme ”