South African Wine Industry Uncorks Opportunities
Wine-making is one of South Africa’s oldest industries and plays a key part in the country’s economy. And now both wine making and production are being transformed and creating new economic opportunities. Once seen only as the preserve of the country’s white minority population, wine is slowly becoming a black thing too.
With exports growing from less than 50 million litres in 1994 to more than 400 million litres in 2008 – year-on-year growth of 17 percent – it is an industry that would be remiss if it didn’t share the profits of this success with the 80 percent of the country’s population who are black.
Since the end of the racist Apartheid regime (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Africa_under_apartheid) in the mid-1990s, various government and industry initiatives have begun to reverse the iniquities of the country’s wine-making industry – and in turn, introduce more black South Africans to the pleasures of drinking this fine local product.
One product of this shift in sentiment is Zimbabwean Tariro Masayiti. A vintner for the prestigious South African winery Nederburg, he made history by being commissioned to create two of the three selected official wines for the World Cup of football held in South Africa this year. His Sauvignon Blanc and Dry Rose were drunk while fans watched the competition.
He says his introduction to the world of wine-making came about by chance.
“It was by accident really,” he said. “My brother used to work at a farm close to the Mukuyu wineries in Marondera (Zimbabwe). During my days at the university he recommended I do general work at the winery as I needed pocket money and something to help my family with.
“It was here that I got interested in winemaking. I used to see visitors from all over the world and some of them encouraged me to take up winemaking as a career. I applied and was accepted for a place at the University of Stellenbosch where I studied Viticulture and Oenology (winery),’ Masayiti told SW Radio Africa news.
“I was headhunted by Nederburg before I even finished my studies.”
Masayiti’s job involves testing the grapes that go into the winery’s product.
“I smell them and at the same time look for specific characters and flavours,” he said. “You improve on the job with training – you just need to taste a lot of wine. You need to love wine and having a science background is useful, so you understand the technical processes. But one thing that serves me well is I am dedicated and passionate about winemaking.”
Another symbol of these changes is Vernon Henn, general manager of Thandi wines (http://www.thandi.com). He worked his way up to this prestigious role in the white-dominated South African wine industry from being an office cleaner. Thandi is the first wine brand in the world entirely owned and run by a black collective.
Thandi (which means “nurturing love” in the Xhosa language) was started in 1995 and became the world’s first Fair Trade-certified wine in 2003. It sells cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, semillon, chardonnay and chenin.
“The whole of the industry has been changing slowly,” Henn told the Guardian newspaper. “We can now up the pace of transformation. There’s still a misconception that anything from black-owned manufacturing has to be inferior. We have always focused on quality and tried to redress misconceptions about black-owned labels.”
Other black-owned labels include M’hudi (http://www.mhudi.com); Ses’fikile (http://www.winedirectory.co.za/index.php/138/sesfikile), led by three former township schoolteachers; and Seven Sisters (http://www.sevensisters.co.za/wmenu.php) – cultivated by seven sisters.
“We are a tiny minority but we are here to stay,” said Vivian Kleynhans of the African Vintners Alliance, comprising eight companies led by black women. “So they will just have to accept us.”
Another success is the Indaba brand (http://twitter.com/IndabaWines) first launched in the US in 1996, just after South Africa became a democratic republic. “Indaba” is the Zulu word for “a meeting of the minds,” or a traditional gathering of tribal leaders for sharing ideas.
The brand was created as a celebration of the democratization process in South Africa, and from its inception the wines have conveyed the spirit of South Africa to the world’s wine drinkers.
The Indaba range of wines consists of the Indaba Sauvignon Blanc, Indaba Chenin Blanc, Indaba Chardonnay, Indaba Merlot and Indaba Shiraz.
There is also the 6th annual Soweto Wine Festival (http://www.sowetowinefestival.co.za/About.htm) held in the Soweto township of Johannesburg. Soweto was home to the resistance against the Apartheid regime, and still has a very poor slum area in its midst. But it is also home to the new and rising black middle class. Many parts of Soweto could now pass for affluent suburbs in any wealthy country. Hatched as an idea in 2004, the wine festival is about “introducing South Africa’s quality wines to the remaining 80 percent of our population,” says Mnikelo Mangciphu, co-founder of the Soweto Wine Festival. “Wine is not for white South Africans only to enjoy. It should be a way of life for all South Africans.”
Mangciphu is also the owner and manager of the only wine shop in Soweto – Morara Wine & Spirit Emporium, which he launched after the first Soweto Wine Festival in 2005.
The idea behind the festival is to shift attitudes in South Africa about wine drinking. Soweto has been the home to many trends in the country, from politics to fashion to pop music. And so it seemed the right place to start shifting attitudes towards wine. The number of participants has grown from 3,000 people to 5,520. Five years after it began, the festival showcases wines from 103 wineries.
Mangciphu had spotted a shift in drinking habits away from just beer and so he opened his wine boutique in Soweto to cater to these new tastes. The shop is an elegant place with wooden shelves displaying the bottles of wine.
South Africa’s wine industry now employs around 257,000 people directly and indirectly, including farm labourers and those involved in packaging, retailing and wine tourism.
Wine tourism alone employs over 59 000 people. The Western Cape region, home to much of the wine industry, has seen its economy grow on the back of wine tourism.
By volume, South Africa ranks ninth in the world for wine production.
There is a scholarship fund also available to encourage young people to enter the South African wine industry as a career. Mzokhona Mvemve was one of the first awarded the Indaba Scholarship and became South Africa’s first black wine maker in 2001, working for Cape Classics.
- Soweto Wine Festival: Website: http://www.sowetowinefestival.co.za/About.htm
- African American Wine Tasting Society: Website: http://www.aawts.org/
- Indaba wines available online: Website: http://www.snooth.com/wines/indaba/
- Blackpreneur blog: Website: http://www.blackpreneur.net/blog/
- Watch video interview recorded in the Morara Wines shop in Soweto. Website: http://www.mg.co.za/multimedia/2010-09-02-wine-takes-off-in-soweto/low