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Black winemakers make their bow

Oct 07 2011 07:37 Sapa

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Johannesburg - A new class of wine makers is emerging in South Africa with blacks, many of whom once worked the land, now taking over vineyards in an industry dominated for centuries by whites.

There are only a handful of black-owned vineyards in the $3bn a year industry, but the number is expected to increase as the government tries to unwind policies under colonial rule and then apartheid that forced blacks off the land or into slave-like work at farms.

M'hudi wines is one of the black-owned vineyards that is a recent entrant into the industry, offering several mid-priced options in red and white. M'hudi means "harvester" in Setswana.

"The wine industry is still uncharted by African people," says Malmesy Rangaka, CEO and matriarch of M'hudi.

The label is run by the Rangaka family of business professionals, who chose to leave their well-paying jobs in major cities to pursue an industry they knew nothing about just a few years ago.

"Unless we take the risk, a calculated risk, we will forever complain that the industry is not transforming. Somebody like us and others who took the risk have to lead the way," she says.

M'hudi now produces over 7 000 cases of wine a year with revenue of over R3m. It is hoping to triple production in five years.

Other new players include King Goodwill Zwelethini's Bayede or "hail to the king" brand, set up to help create jobs in the KwaZulu-Natal.

Another is Thandi, which means "nurturing love" in Xhosa. It was started in 1995 to help former farm workers and other people disenfranchised under apartheid. It is owned by 250 farm-worker families.

Most of the new entrants have benefited from government affirmative action and land redistribution programmes. They are producing mid-level wines, hoping to branch into higher end vintages as they build up expertise and experience.

One change in the market dynamics that has favoured all South African winemakers is that the country's black majority is increasingly selecting wine as a drink of choice.

The Soweto Wine Festival, set in the township that became a centre of black culture under apartheid, has grown into one of the biggest in South Africa.

"It's a very progressive, young Sowetan market and it is wonderful to be part of that," said one of the festival sponsors, Caroline Sunders.

South African wines date back to the mid 1700s and the first vines were planted by Dutch settlers, at first to ward off scurvy.

"This is an industry that requires understanding of product from cultivation of the soils, understanding climate influence, making of wine, branding and marketing of the product, but most of all patience," said Andre Morgenthal communications manager of Wines of South Africa. 

wine  |  entrepreneurship
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