by Maria C. Hunt, Wine Editor, Cuisine Noir
It’s more and more common to find bottles of award-winning shiraz, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon imported from South Africa on wine lists around the country. But here are a few statistics that may sour the taste of that next glass of South African wine:
• South African wine industry revenues in 2008: $3.3 billion
• Percentage wine industry employees who are Black: 90
• Number of Black family-owned wineries in South Africa: 1
Despite a few success stories, nearly 15 years after the end of apartheid, most Black South Africans still are earning a pittance as grape pickers instead of advancing as winemakers, vineyard managers and owners. When Stephen Satterfield, a young sommelier living in Atlanta, heard these numbers, he knew he wanted things to change.
“This is one of the most incredible cases of societal economic disparity you could find in any industry in the world,” Satterfield says. “You have billions in wealth and revenue being created, but there’s only one (Black) family who owns a vineyard.”
His answer is Drink Well, Do Good, an ambitious series of 13 concerts, tastings and art events across North America that he hopes will raise $150,000 to establish a viticultural training center in South Africa. The tour starts April 3 in New Orleans with a concert at Cafe Prytania before making stops in cities including Portland, Vancouver, Austin, Detroit and New York City.
Satterfield was inspired by Selena and Khary Cuffe who founded Los Angeles-based Heritage Link Brands in 2005 to import wines made by Black vintners in Africa and other parts of the world. Selena Cuffe visited the first Soweto Wine Festival, loved the wines she tasted and was moved to act when she learned most were struggling with finding distribution and reaching customers. Heritage Link Brands now distributes wine brands owned by Black South Africans including Bouwland, Seven Sisters and M’Hudi to 41 states in the U.S. and around the world. (Discovered Treasures in Sowento)
“I understood her business model was a way to empower Black South Africans in a very important industry … and give them access to commercial opportunities that Black people had never seen,” Satterfield says. “The thing I picked up on as the missing link was education.”
“Their roles were field laborers picking grapes mainly because they didn’t have the skill set to do otherwise.”
According to an economic report released in February by the South African Wine Industry Information and Systems, the wine industry added 26.2 billion Rand ($3.3 billion US) to that country’s gross domestic product in 2008. The wine business employs nearly 276,000 workers; of those, 58 percent are unskilled, 29 percent are semi-skilled and 13 percent are considered skilled workers.
Education was the key for Ntsiki Biyela, who became South Africa’s first Black female winemaker at Stellekaya Winery after winning a scholarship to study enology. And Patrick Kraukamp, a former forklift driver, is now a winemaker and part owner at Thandi Winery, a Black-owned Stellenbosch cooperative started after White landowners donated land and expertise to the project.
But the story that’s most uplifting is that of Diale and Malmsey Rangaka and M’Hudi Wines. In 2003, in a quest for a new way of life, the couple left their careers as a professor and psychologist and a comfortable life in Johannesburg to buy a run-down farm and vineyard with brilliant mountain views in the Western Cape. They learned about farming and winemaking with the help of their neighbors and produced fruit that now goes into acclaimed chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and pinotage wines sold internationally.
In the next few years, Cuffe can envision driving up the rocky, unpaved road that leads to the M’Hudi vineyard and finding a winemaking school that has the potential to help more Black South Africans lift themselves out of poverty.
“To my mind it’s akin to bringing the first classroom of the Tuskegee Institute to the rural community of Alabama and educating the next generation of leaders in agriculture,” says Selena Cuffe of Heritage Link Brands. “It will hopefully educate the people of the Western Cape for many years to come.”
Satterfield, who is still booking venues and bands for the tour, believes Drink Well, Do Good will have a broad appeal. The concerts with local bands like New Orleans’ Kora Konnection who blends jazz and West African music and Chicago’s Afrobeat Project will attract 21-34 year olds who identify with social causes and grassroots campaigns. The food and wine events will appeal to Baby Boomers who can afford to donate to the cause.
The fundraising tour is just one of the activities of the International Society of Africans in Wine, a non-profit organization that Satterfield and childhood friend PJ Bullock founded to help increase the economic empowerment of Black South Africans. It also operates a Cape Collections Wine Club that sells South African wine selections imported by Heritage Link Brands.
Ultimately, Satterfield and Cuffe both want more Americans to do good by helping Black South Africans while drinking great wines. In early 2009, New York Times Wine Critic Eric Asimov praised South Africa as “one of the greatest sources for moderately priced cabernet sauvignon on the planet today.”
“Simply put, the wines are outstanding!” Cuffe says.