Wines imbued with post-apartheid struggle

Tue Feb 2, 2010 12:55pm EST
 
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By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The best wines come from vines that struggle, so it is not surprising to find some of the most interesting South African wines are produced by people who have known hardship.

Until 1994 when apartheid ended blacks had been banned from owning land and wineries. Today, there are about 4,000 wineries in South Africa but only two are owned by black families.

"I thought someone needs to tell these stories. Why not us," said Selena Cuffe, 34, who runs Heritage Link Brands, a U.S. company that imports wines produced by black South Africans.

"The wine industry in South Africa is analogous to the cotton industry here ... Those two industries were built on the backs of slave labor," Cuffe, an African-American originally from California, added in an interview.

Her life changed after an impromptu visit in 2005 to South Africa and Soweto's annual wine festival where she met Vivian Kleynhans of the Seven Sisters winery.

"Now this was before I knew anything about wine or the wine business." said Cuffe, who asked if Kleynhans' wines were available in the United States.

"Sister, we're struggling to get it distributed in South Africa," Kleynhans replied.

About a month after returning home from South Africa Cuffe, who has an MBA from Harvard University, and her husband, who holds the same degree, started their importing company.   Continued...

 
<p>An employee prepares a wine tasting at the Boschendal winery in Stellenbosch, about 80km southwest of Cape town, November 24, 2009. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach</p>