South Africa’s Black Vintners Find A Global Market

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South Africa may have overcome its apartheid roots, but other legacies linger: the country’s wine industry has long been dominated by white winemakers. So it is more than a little striking that a US-based company called Heritage Link Brands imports and distributes wines made only by black South Africans.

Heritage Link was started by Selena Cuffe, who first tasted wines made by black vintners in Soweto four years ago. [more]The African American Harvard MBA launched the company, says the Los Angeles Times, more because of the stories of the winemakers than the wine itself: “The Seven Sisters wines, for example, are produced by sisters who, during apartheid, were evicted from their home in a small fishing village on the western coast of South Africa. They returned 22 years later and now produce seven wines, each named for one of the sisters.”

Cuffe and her husband started the company with $70,000 at the end of 2005. Today they sell their wines at more 800 restaurants, retailers, and groceries. The wines are also used in-flight on United Airlines; in fact, it was the contract with United in 2008 that made the business viable.

Now Heritage Link is expanding its line “to include wines made elsewhere by people of African descent.” It’s an unusual niche-oriented gamble, banking on the heritage of the winemakers to sell bottled wines. But the Cuffes are hopeful buyers will be intrigued by the contents of the bottle—and the people behind it.

 

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