WOSA book shows the changing face of South African wine industry
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Carmen Stevens, the daughter of a clothing factory worker, first sensed something of wine's romance from the bodice-ripper novels she used to read as a young girl growing up in Kraaifontein near Stellenbosch.

"I fell totally in love with wine's mystical qualities the way it was conjured up in these books. My mother was just happy to see me read!"

Stevens became South Africa's first female winemaker of colour and one of the first two women to have her wines chosen for the prestigious ABSA Top 10 Pinotage selection. Winemaker for Stellenbosch boutique producer Amani, she is also studying for her British Masters of Wine (MW). Currently only two South African women hold the title of MW.

It is her photograph that appears on the cover of Ithemba, the richly illustrated book that documents some of the leading examples of socio-economic transformation within the local wine industry since the advent of democracy 15 years ago. Produced by Wines of South Africa (WOSA) and funded largely by the Department of Trade and Industry, the book takes its name from the Nguni word for hope.

The purpose of Ithemba, says WOSA CEO Su Birch, is to highlight the black winemakers behind many of the country’s successful brands of whom Stevens is just one example, as well as to promote the country's black-owned brands and to acknowledge the many initiatives of those in the industry who are promoting meaningful and sustainable change.

She concedes that transformation in terms of land ownership has been slow, given the high barriers to entry. The extremely high cost of land and capital, as well as the delay in achieving a return on investment, given that it takes at least four to five years before vines are able to produce fruit of the appropriate quality to make wines, have meant that transformation has tended to occur elsewhere along the value chain. Ithemba seeks to highlight change across many other levels in the industry, says Birch.

"There is much concrete evidence of successful transformation in the fact that we have black-owned brands listed in leading supermarkets in the UK and on American Airlines, while black winemakers run the cellars of some of our most famous wine brands.

"However, perhaps less overtly visible is the significant investment taking place in the transfer of skills in business, viticulture, farm management, winemaking and wine marketing, or in the manifold efforts to create the foundation for long-term sustainable development, by focusing on basic education, early learning and in community and social upliftment. Ithemba focuses on these facets of transformation."

Ithemba explores the impact black economic empowerment has had on the lives of people like Stevens through the transfer of skills and knowledge over the past decade and a half. This strikingly attractive and vivacious mother of two young girls may not have moved far from her origins in physical distance but her position, her quality of life and her future tell a very different story that is a tangible expression of the change in South African society and its wine industry.

Superbly photographed by Anna Lusty, it captures the energy, dignity and passion of workers and their families, entrepreneurs, winemakers and sommeliers who work in the world of wine.

"We believe we have created a beautiful and very accessibly written book that explores the material ways in which transformation is shaping the lives of a new generation of South Africans, whose disenfranchised forebears would never have imagined that such opportunity and hope was possible," says Birch.

The industry, established 350 years ago with the help of slave labour, is dramatically different from the one operating before the dismantling of apartheid in 1994, when little was known about South African wine outside the country and less than 50 million litres found its way offshore every year. Today it employs over 257,000 people directly and indirectly, and exports worldwide over 400 million litres of wine worth R6,2bn, making it the biggest contributor to the country's agricultural exports.

"We have made many meaningful structural and attitudinal changes in our industry to unleash the potential of enormously talented people," says Birch. "By showing examples of individuals and projects that reflect empowerment initiatives of corporate and independent producers, the creation of black-owned enterprises that involve not only winemaking but some of the satellite business that supply to the wine industry, we hope readers will come closer to understanding us."

The book also covers educational programmes that underpin transformation, as well as the community projects designed to promote a better quality of life for workers in the wine industry and their families.

"We acknowledge that transformation is a long and ongoing process and still has a far way to go but we are celebrating the huge difference it is already making."

Birch says Ithemba is being distributed to members of the international wine trade. Click here to download the electronic version.

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