In 2006, news that a group of four black women from Gugulethu were taking a brave step towards owning their own wine label was met with great enthusiasm.
Ses’fikile had arrived, as the name boldly proclaims, and was hailed as the beginning of transformation in a still lily white industry that very few blacks have managed to break into.
Nondumiso Pikashe, owner and managing director of Sesfikile Wines says although the journey has often been as treacherous as a difficult harvesting season, her passion for wine has kept her motivated to put Ses’fikile wines on the shelves for the past nine years. Her range of wines are available at Makro stores.
Pikashe, who was born in Gugulethu, started out with three other women as partners in an empowerment deal with Flagstone Winery. They relied on Flagstone, which owned the vineyard, for skills transfer.
Pikashe says she also devoured everything about wine making.
“I attended and do still attend a lot of wine fairs and read a lot about the wine-making process and the industry. I have also joined the Women in Wine group for networking and make sure I regularly associate with industry leaders.”
But two years down the line the deal fell through when Flagstone sold the business and Pikashe’s partners decided to pursue other interests.
“Maybe back then I was too naive,” says Pikashe, who felt unwelcome in the capital-intensive industry.
“When you get into this space, you are black, you don’t have money and the whole value chain does not favour you.”
It took Pikashe more than a year to regroup and she finallly relaunched Ses’fikile in 2010 as its sole owner through the Mass Mart Supplier Development programme that is still supporting her business. She sources her wines from a few suppliers but feels this arrangement is not sustainable.
“You can get exploited a lot when it comes to pricing [by the vineyards selling you the wine].”
The ideal situation she says, would be to partner with a winery in a joint venture where she can control the wine-making process.
Sheila Hlanjwa of Lathathi Wines shares a similar story.
Hlanjwa is from Langa in Cape Town and she also does not own her own vineyard. Since her label started in 2004 she had to fight tooth and nail to keep her wines on the shelves, she says.
She adds that the government was not sympathetic to the plight of black female wine label owners.
“They take us to exhibitions and markets [to market the wine labels]. We have been all over the world but we need more sustainable interventions because there is no real transformation in the industry.”
She and Pikashe have tried to form a body with six other black female label owners as they believe their voices will be louder if they are united.
Pikashe feels the industry’s exclusionist mentality comes from a snobbish tradition where the success of your wine is associated with its history. “When I sell wine I need to convince you by telling you where my grape was grown, when was it harvested, under what climate and who made it for you.”
She gets a lot of satisfaction from teaching young people about the industry.
“The objective is to hear more black kids say more often, ‘I am Nomonde from Gugulethu and I am a viticulturist’.”