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South Africa’s Wine Arc Honors the Past and Future of Black Winemakers

Stellenbosch’s first tasting room featuring Black-owned wine brands

Written by Jennifer White

 

Meet the team at The Wine Arc, Capetown’s newest tasting room featuring Black-owned wine from South African winemakers. (Photo courtesy of SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit)

Finally… A beautiful, modern, public tasting room in Cape Town, South Africa that honors and celebrates Black women in wine — the true, and literally, the backbone of the country’s wine industry. The Wine Arc opened its doors to the public on December 15, 2021, and is the premier new wine bar located at the Tasting Room and Cellar Complex at the Agricultural Research Council’s Nietvoorbij Campus in Stellenbosch. The destination highlights a curated selection of varietals made by 13 top Black winemakers in South Africa, most of whom are women, each a pioneer in the wine industry in their own right.  For the first time in history, there is an upscale location in South Africa’s second-oldest town to sip, savor and support premier wines made by Black South African winemakers.

Over 300 years of South African winemaking

Most wine drinkers around the world are unaware of South Africa’s 300+ year wine history, which possesses a vibrant, viticultural landscape rivaling those of France, Italy, and what is considered “old world” grapevines. Most known for its native bred varietal, Pinotage, a savory, complex red with notes of dark chocolate engineered in 1925 by Abraham Perold at Stellenbosch University. The academic institution graduated its first Black student in 2003, Ntsiki Biyela, whose Aslina wines can now be found at The Wine Arc, and makes a Chenin Blanc that will make you say “wow.”

“The Wine Arc is a symbol of hope and revival for our wine brands, especially amidst the devastating global pandemic and numerous bans on alcohol sales in South Africa,” says Wendy Petersen, Executive Manager of South Africa’s Wine Industry Transformation Unit (SAWITU).

The thirteen brands featured at the ‘brand home,’ are Aslina Wines, Bayede!, Cape Dreams, Carmen Stevens Wines, Koni Wines, La Ricmal, Libby’s Pride Wines, M’Hudi Wines, Paardenkloof Wines, Ses’fikele Wines, The Bridge of Hope Wines, Tesselaarsdal Wines, and Thokozani Wines. Each wine entrepreneur went through a stringent vetting process which included commercial, marketing, and technical 360 evaluation to ensure their preparedness to participate in the program.  During the technical evaluation, they were blind tasted against competing products in the market, to emphasize the quality of their wines to the general market.

“The authenticity of the brand name was important to us,” says Petersen. “We wanted it to differentiate black-owned brands in the wine industry, unite them as a collective and enable them to build their own legacy based on their culture and background.”

Roots & Vines Wine, Jennifer White with Wendy Peterson of the SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit. (photo courtesy of Jennifer White, Roots & Vines Wine)

Connecting our roots through South Africa’s Black vines

During my travels to South Africa’s wine country and falling in love with Pinotage, I learned of the harsh reality of women vineyard workers, so I strategize with SISTERcircle to do something about it. Roots & Vines Wine was launched in 2020 to import premium South African wines made by Black women. I fell in love with the winemaker’s stories, toured their facilities, and now import 4 of the 13 brands found at The Wine Arc, with the goal of importing new varietals each quarter. Through a collective of 10 Black women, Roots & Vines intentionally connects women between the U.S. and Africa, opening up the $50+ billion U.S. wine market to Black South African women. 

From being told there were “No South African wines made by Black women” back in 2019, to see the evolution of The Wine Arc, there have been 3 important lessons learned along my wine entrepreneur journey as a wine importer/distributor:

  1. Follow Your Dreams.

     Dreams and ideas are important foundations for innovation. It’s important to give ourselves permission to reach for the stars, Afrofuturism got next.  
  2. Be Different.

     Many people in the wine industry did not start their careers there, pivoting into what brings joy and passion guarantees an abundant life. Don’t be afraid to start a new trajectory in life by following your heart.
  3. Find Your Tribe.

     The Wine Arc would not be possible without Black women committed to economic empowerment for other Black women. Similarly, Roots & Vines Wine would not exist without like-minded, forward-thinking investors interested in connecting, and investing, with Africa. And the common thread? Wine! Literal Spirits. A libation that brings the energy of our ancestors to all who partake. Finding supportive folks for your creative ideas propels you along your journey, and brings collective blessings, and connections.

Planning a trip to South Africa? 

Be sure to make Stellenbosch a stop and visit The Wine Arc, the new hub for Black-owned brands. “People. Culture. Unity. Legacy.” The Wine Arc pays homage to generations of Black women’s labor in the wine industry, and the exquisite winemaking ability of 13 Black winemakers who are carrying the torch. Oh, and don’t forget to sample the amazing South African red – Pinotage. Because we know — “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice!” For more information about the story and varietals from Roots & Vines Wine visit www.rootsandvineswine.com