It’s quite a view from where one is standing on the deck of the Wine Arc outside Stellenbosch. In front of the terrace, neatly trellised vineyards are bare of leaves in the winter sunshine; the vines resting ahead of next year’s harvest season. To the left lies the historic university town of Stellenbosch, all oak trees and charming streets framed by lush fynbos-clad peaks.
But look right, and the view changes: the poorer suburbs of Kayamandi and Cloetesville, where houses are crammed in tight along dusty roads, and it’s more like the city of smoke than the city of oaks. The haves, and the working-hard-to-haves.
That dichotomy is nothing new in SA, but here it stands as a fine metaphor for what’s being achieved at the Wine Arc, a landmark facility championing black-owned wine brands.
Hosted in the tasting room and cellar complex at the Agricultural Research Council’s Nietvoorbij Campus on the outskirts of town, the Wine Arc opened in late-2021 as a project of the SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit (Sawitu), a non-profit organisation funded by government and the alcohol industry.
“The Wine Arc is a symbol of hope and revival for our wine brands,” said Wendy Petersen, operations manager of Sawitu, ahead of the launch. “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.”
About R12m was invested in the project, creating a multipronged opportunity for nascent and established black-owned wine brands.
The Wine Arc launched with 13 black-owned wine brands, which will have a home at the venue for an initial period of two years. Tastings are offered six days per week, with Wine Arc also offering brands a seamless e-commerce and distribution solution to reach retailers and consumers.
It’s so important to shift the perception of quality in connection with black-owned wine brandsDenise Stubbs, MD of Thokozani Wines
It sounds simple, but it’s a pivotal opportunity for many winemakers, who may craft wonderful wines but don’t have a platform to share them with potential customers. For the participating brands, Wine Arc goes some way towards filling the gap.
“The biggest challenge that black-owned wine brands, and black winemakers, have in SA is that we don’t have 100-year histories. That means we don’t necessarily have access to markets,” says Carmen Stevens, a pioneering female winemaker who was the first black South African to study winemaking at Elsenburg outside Stellenbosch.
“I can make the best wines, the most beautiful wines, but if I don’t have access to market it counts for nothing. Having a brand home and a tasting space allows people to sit down and discover your wines, and that is really what the Wine Arc is offering to black winemakers,” says Stevens.
Wary of the quality stigma often attached to black-owned wines, the selected brands went through a stringent selection process of blind tastings and business evaluation.
“It’s so important to shift the perception of quality in connection with black-owned wine brands,” adds Denise Stubbs, MD of Thokozani Wines outside Wellington. “The Wine Arc is really showcasing that wines from black-owned brands can be high-quality wines.”
It’s a great mix of labels too, and the 13 brands at launch include well-known ones you’ve probably already heard of — the likes of Aslina, Carmen Stevens and Mhudi – alongside a roster of up-and-coming winemakers. Want to sip on Le Ric Mal or Nietvoorbij? Now’s your chance.