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Black South Africans change landscape of once white-only wine industry

Paul Siguqa, owner of Klein Goederust wine estate in Franschhoek, at the entrance of his winery on October 14, 2022 in, South Africa.   -  
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South Africa

Of the hundreds of winemakers in the country, Africa's top wine producer, just over 80 black-owned brands, according to the SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit.

Paul Siguqa inspects his flowering grape crop in Franschhoek (Western Cape province), a town located in a South African region dotted with centuries-old vineyards.

The 41-year-old bought Klein Goederust farm (Afrikaans for "a little good rest") after saving up for 15 years to achieve a dream of his. He renovated it and opened it last year, 3 years after he purchased the farm.

His mother had for 37 years worked at a farm in South Africa's Cape winelands under the white minority apartheid regime. Sigupa’s fate was not a preordained destiny.

"If you grow up on a farm as children of farm labourers, black farm labourers, you are raised to be the next crop of labour for that farmer", the owner of the Klein Goederust wine estate said.

"The farmer doesn't look very far for labour, the children of labourers that in most cases become the next generation of labour."

Perseverance pays off

The first vineyards were established in the 1600s by White French Huguenots.

Since then, land has passed down through generations and when sales do occur, it has often been to neighbours leaving little opportunity for new comers.Yet they not give up.

More Black South Africans are starting to smash the barriers in the country's renowned industry.

Carmen Stevens is a 51-year-old and un unlikely winemaker. She grew up in the Cape Flats -- an area marred by poverty and gangsters.

Her mother, a factory worker, would buy her Mills & Boon fiction novels, many set in vineyards and involving wine.

South Africa was still under the racially segregated apartheid regime when Stevens made her first attempt to study winemaking in 1991. After being repeatedly refused, she was accepted at a college in 1993.

Her perseverance has paid off. In 2011, she launched Carmen Stevens Wines, became South Africa's first fully black-owned winery.

She was supported by SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit, an organization which organises grants and internships for startupse espically non-White entrepreneurs. 

Accelerate the pace of change

Carmen Stevens joined the Wine Arc tasting room which was launched by the organization. The group promotes budding producers in South Africa's wine producing hub Stellenbosch. However, other barriers remain.

"Investment-wise it's a big challenge and that is partly why I think there is not a lot of black stakeholders because we don't come from a background where we have the financial backing", the 51-year-old explains.

The increasing number of entrepreneurs of colour often faces a lack of resources to be spread thinly among them. Even for organizations like the SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit, dividing resources bewteen candidates is no easy task.

This new generation of Black winemakers isn't dettered by the odds.

This year Carmen Stevens took home three gold medals at a South African wine and spirits award event for her sauvignon blanc and newly-released rose named after her mother Julie.

But like many black-owned brands, she procures her grapes from farmers in the region, not yet having her own land to cultivate.

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