Cheers for seven sisters

2013-08-13 11:40
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 Vivian Kleynhans of African Roots Wines (Supplied) ~ Supplied
Cape Town - Entrepreneur Vivian Kleynhans has risen from poor beginnings in the small fishing village of Paternoster in the Western Cape to heading up a black-owned wine company, African Roots Wines.

Seven years ago she and her six sisters, each of whom have a stake in the business, started on this journey.

The high point of their efforts was the recent shipping of the first order of their brand, Seven Sisters, some of which are destined for Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the USA.

What could have been a story of hopelessness has culminated in triumph.

Through hard work and tenacity, Vivian's family has been reunited some 28 years after they were separated when their father lost his fishing job.

At that time, the whole family (seven sisters and a brother) were evicted from their factory house. They were forced to live with different relatives to survive.

Financial institutions not 'entrepreneur friendly'

Even as a youngster Vivian - the middle sister - showed a go-getting nature and an entrepreneurial spirit, which ended up turning her (and her family’s) life around.

As a child she would find ways to make money and turned her difficulties into challenges. She is a natural marketer and approaches life with a positive attitude.

In fact she says candidly: “If I meet anyone with a negative attitude I don’t pursue the relationship.”

She sees the lack of what she calls "entrepreneur friendly" financial institutions as a big pitfall for entrepreneurs in South Africa.

"Entrepreneurs and small businesses are supposed to be the future of the country, economy and more employment, but when you seek business capital the risks are too high," she says.

As for how she handles set-backs, she says she "feels" it and then mopes around for a little while and then becomes creative.

"I must be honest I don’t normally allow myself to get too overwhelmed when facing a challenge. I deal with a situation straight away and head on," she says.

Recipe for success

Her recipe for success is tenacity, willpower and patience.

"I am blessed with a relentless spirit."

Entering the wine market as a black empowerment project is no easy undertaking and exploitation is rife, according to Vivian.

Even having had seed funding from the South African Wine Industry Trust (Sawit) did not protect her from exploitation.

Picking herself up and starting again was a no-brainer. She enrolled at Stellenbosch University for a wine course and looked for a new wine supplier.


She found a willing partner in Swartland Winery in 2006 and now, seven years later tenacity and sheer guts have paid off.   

Add to this a chance meeting with an American entrepreneur at the Soweto Wine Festival early on in her relationship with Swartland Winery and the seeds for success were sown.

Selena Cuffe simply loved the rosé wine (named after sister Twena) that Vivian had presented at the festival.

Nurturing the contact and keeping her abreast of progress gave Vivian the breakthrough into the American wine industry in 2009 when the Seven Sisters brand was listed on American Airlines in business and first class.

Next up was a listing in 42 American states. By this time Selena and her husband, Khary Cuffe had started a wine import company and became Vivian’s business partners.

When Wal-Mart came to South Africa looking for supplier diversity, Seven Sisters wine ticked all the boxes. It is women-owned and a development project with the feisty, no-nonsense Vivian at its helm.

“Supplier diversity is important to our commitment to inclusion, community and commerce”, says Michael Byron, senior director at Wal-Mart.


Vivian acknowledges that breaking into the local market is enormously difficult, but she has succeeded with Makro and has appointed a national wine distributor - PB Liquors/Bidvest Group.

"Survival is all about competing in the global market. Being accepted by Wal-Mart signals a turning point in how the local industry should view black-owned wine businesses,” she says.

Swartland Winery’s cellarmaster Andries Blake has put a lot of work into selecting the cultivars that represent the personalities of each of the sisters.

Vivian acknowledges that by collaborating with Swartland Winery she has been able to achieve her dream.

“Our success is possible thanks to their dedication to the Seven Sisters project,” she says.

Her children, grandchildren and family keep her going and are the most important things in her life.

"I work hard to make sure I leave an inheritance for my children and grandchildren. To give them the starting point in life I never had," she says.

- Fin24

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