Emerging winemakers face uphill battle

South Africa's black winemakers, a few years ago consigned only to manual labour in the vineyards, are making huge strides as wine farm owners, but are still facing the challenge of expensive capital outlays.

"The time has arrived for black people to run their own wine farms ... but right now I need my own cellar and other wine making facilities," said Bouwland wine estate chairperson, Jan Hendricks, a former wine farm worker.

Bouwland wine estate outside the scenic student town of Stellenbosch, about 60km northeast of Cape Town, was bought by black employees in 2002 after legendary master winemaker Beyers Truter sold his majority stake.

The farm had its first harvest in 2003, but their wines are being produced at cellars far from the farm.

As a result, Bouwland shareholders, whose farm is situated on the historic slopes of the Simonsberg in South Africa's wine heartland, will not be able to share dividends until they have paid back their loan and build their own cellar.

"We are deep in debt, the first option for us is to pay off the farm, then build the necessary infrastructure," said Bouwland's financial director Cecil Jaap.

To build a cellar, a warehouse, a tasting laboratory and offices will cost the estate R4-million, according to Jaap.

"It's not cheap money that we are talking about… if we sell our wine and make a profit of R1,5-million we will have to wait for at least five years before we can build our own cellars," said Jaap.

The estate makes chenin blanc and cabernet sauvignon/merlot and exports about 12 000 cases of wine a year.

Nearby, in the small town of Paarl, a farm worker-based project, Winds of Change, is facing similar problems even though they have their own cellar.

"We only have twelve hectares of land, but its difficult to expand because agricultural land is difficult to get, especially vineyards," said project coordinator Clyde Williams.

Winds of Change exports 200 000 cases of wine and for every case sold, one pound sterling is deposited into a community trust fund for education, housing, and health.

Getting hold of land to grow grapes is a dilemma also facing other emerging black industry players like Jabulani Ntshangase, who has spearheaded the drive for equality in the wine industry.

Like the few other black wine producers, Ntshangase said he sourced grapes from vineyards in the Cape to produce his wines which include sauvignon blanc, shiraz and merlot, but he also finds the land too expensive to buy.

"Access to land is a big challenge. It's difficult for us who have no land but passion, to buy anything.
Some people are overpaying for land and outdoing everyone," said Ntshangase.

"One guy bought a wine farm and spent R240-million on developing it. He is not even looking at breaking-even in terms of what he sells," said Ntshangase.

Ntshangase said emerging black winemakers were battling to get their wines into the shelves of local upmarket supermarkets.

"I am battling to do business with some local retailers even though my wine is selling in top wine shops and restaurants in America," he said.

But the stereotype is being broken down.

Twelve of South Africa's top black winemakers were putting their vintages on show at a wine festival in Soweto township this weekend.

The Cape's winelands region, which has been in the world's winemaking map for more than three centuries, has seen some radical changes in the last few years as more and more black winemakers get involved in the art.

Black wine producers sell their wines under the labels of Lindiwe (Zulu for "the one who has been awaited"), Ses'fikile (Xhosa for "we have arrived") and New Beginnings, South Africa's first fully black-owned wine producer.

In total there are at least 28 black-owned wineries, joint ventures or community-owned projects and more than ten black winemakers working for famous estates like Nederburg, KWV, Fleur du Cap and Kanonkop.

The Cape winelands is the largest wine producing region in the Western Cape and about 834-million liters of wine is produced annually. - Sapa-AFP

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