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Exploring South Africa’s Black Wine Scene

Exploring South Africa’s Black Wine Scene

Part of the challenge for a lot of the Black owners is they lack generational wealth that can be crucial for marketing, brand development and mass production.

Through an excursion arranged by Ms. Price, we ended up at Ms. Stevens’s cellar in a sprawling white building flanked by palm trees in an industrial park in Stellenbosch.

Ms. Stevens, 51, is small, energetic and blunt. She showed us around the space, with its high ceilings, massive steel tanks, and rows and rows of wine barrels that infused the space with a sweet, oaky aroma. We sat with her for a tasting, and she took us through her remarkable journey.

In 1993, the year before South Africa’s first democratic elections, she became the first Black person to enroll at Elsenburg College near Stellenbosch to study winemaking. But that was only after she had been denied entry three times because of her race.

Under the apartheid system, Ms. Stevens was classified as “colored,” a designation for people of multiracial background. Though colored South Africans got marginally more privileges than those deemed Black — or African — they still endured severe discrimination. Some are also the descendants of enslaved vineyard laborers. Today, in the wine industry and in other sectors, colored and Black people are both considered disadvantaged groups as they face similar challenges.

At Elsenburg, Ms. Stevens said, people called her racial slurs to her face and told her she was too stupid to succeed. She defied those doubters, graduating in 1995 and establishing her own brand in 2014 that makes award-winning wines including a sauvignon blanc, a merlot and a red blend called Nemrac.

Despite her accolades, Ms. Stevens said her brand, like others that are Black-owned, still struggles to break into the market. One problem is that Black-owned brands generally don’t produce high volumes, which are often required to get onto the shelves of big retailers, she said.

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