Cellars with a female touch

Rosemary Mosia of the Bridge of Hope winery is one of a select group of female owners in the wine business.
Rosemary Mosia of the Bridge of Hope winery is one of a select group of female owners in the wine business.

The rarely hyped wonder of new South Africa is the emergence of black-owned wines which have not only generated awe, but have also contributed to the deepening wine culture among black consumers.

An even greater surprise is the fact that most of these wines are owned by women, who have overcome the odds to claim their space in the drinks landscape dominated by big brands. This is a far cry from the stuttering start made by black wineries back in the mid-1990s, when the post-apartheid euphoria blinded them to the torturous path ahead.

Twenty-two years later and hard lessons learnt along the way, it is tragic that some black labels - mostly owned by men - showed lack of the mainstay and bit the dust. By a twist of fate, the proverbial "last man standing" today happens to be. a woman. In fact, it is a group of women who have kept the stamina by relentlessly steering their wines through the imperious wine business.

The most enduring women-owned labels are Seven Sisters owned by Vivian Kleynhans and her six sisters, M'hudi (Malmsey Rangaka), Libby Wines (Libby Pietersen), Ses'fikile (Nondumiso Pikashe), Lathitha (Sheila Hlanjwa), Thembi (Thembi Tobie), The Bridge of Hope (Rosemary Masia) and the Women in Wine label initiated by a group of 20 women.

However, it has not been a total wipeout for labels owned by black men. There are a handful still around - some in existence since a decade or so ago. Epicurean has arguably been the most successful premium black brand, owned by men, so far. It is produced by a quartet of wine-loving friends - Mutle Mogase, Mbhazima Shilowa, Moss Ngoasheng and Ron Gault - as a hobby but has since become a low-key affair with the helping hand of Rupert and Rothschild cellar master Schalk-Willem Joubert .

Apart from capital, distribution remains a major issue for black cellars, coupled with a host of other teething problems that still hinder growth after so many years. But these issues might be overcome if a new initiative, Treasure Chest Wine Road Shows, which aims to enable these brands to reach a wider market, both local and abroad, becomes a success.

The road show launched in Durban in January, proceeded to Joburg last month and will have other stopovers in Bloemfontein on March 30 and Pretoria on April 25.

The show creates a platform for 14 black wine entrepre- neurs to reach customers in major cities with a view to establishing a strong footprint for them. It also provides a snapshot of the journey the 14 brands have travelled so far.

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