In South Africa, a tour of black-owned vineyards making their mark

From left to right, Rodney Zimba, winemaker and cellar owner Paul Siguqa. Zimba and Siguqa grew up together, their parents working on the same wine estate in Franschhoek.Klein Goderust/Document

“You have to come visit us,” winery owner Paul Siguqa tells visitors tasting his wine at Cape Wine 2022, the show that has drawn buyers, sommeliers and trade professionals from around the world to Cape Town, South Africa, earlier this month.

The son of a farm worker, Siguqa became the first black vineyard owner in Franschhoek. He says he was able to buy Klein Goederust in 2019, due to the dilapidated state of the 10-hectare estate (which included various century-old buildings) located between the main road and the railway line. A more desirable property would have been purchased by another local or foreign investor.

Siguqa explains that Klein Goederust offered little to save. “We started from scratch,” he says.

Siguqa became the first black vineyard owner in Franschhoek when he purchased Klein Goederust in 2019.Klein Goderust/Document

White South Africans own almost 80% of the agricultural land, although they make up only about 8% of the population. Black people own 2.5% of the country’s vineyard acreage, according to the industry trade group, Vinpro. Twenty-seven years after the free and democratic election of Nelson Mandela ended apartheid, the South African wine industry is struggling to create opportunities for black ownership.

Lack of land ownership along with farming, winemaking, marketing expertise, and generational wealth present significant barriers to entry into the wine business. Siguqa, who grew up on a wine estate, was challenged to further his education and would study business at Stellenbosch University before working in the media.

“If you grow up on farms as children of farmhands, you will automatically become the next crop of laborers,” he explains. “My mother decided that she would be the last working harvest. … Her children would go to school so they could explore other opportunities.

Franschhoek is considered the food and wine capital of South Africa. The city is home to eight of the nation’s top 100 restaurants and more than 30 wineries. Its vineyard land is among the most expensive in the country, bringing in an average of R1 million (about $75,000) per hectare due to the quality of the wines produced.

Franschhoek, where Klein Goederust is located, is considered the food and wine capital of South Africa.Klein Goderust/Document

The rehabilitation of Klein Goederust began with the removal of existing vineyards. A thorough soil analysis was carried out to ensure that the best varieties would be planted on the site. They plan to harvest their first crop of grapes next year, from a young parcel of Mourvèdre, to produce a rosé. The 2024 vintage should provide Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and other varietals. During this time, the grapes are purchased from other vineyards in the region. His flagship production is a traditional method sparkling wine named after his mother, Nomaroma Siguqa. It’s crafted in a rich, refined style, with zesty citrus notes mingling with creamy, toasty flavors.

A restaurant is a big part of hospitality. Siguqa points out that its menu offers African dishes, not French or Italian cuisine. “We serve African food because Franschhoek is in Africa,” he says. A recent menu featured spit-roasted lamb, with spicy marinated fish and a sweet potato roll in caramel sauce on the side.

“We are a small company, we cannot compete on size,” says Siguqa, “but we can compete on quality; the quality of the service, the quality of the experience that we offer.

According to the gregarious owner, there was never any talk of changing the estate’s name to reflect its modern reality as one of the few black-owned vineyards in South Africa. “It was a conscious choice,” he says.

There was also a marketing sense behind the decision, he admits. Put a bottle of Paul Siguqa wine next to a bottle of Klein Goederust and many consumers might dismiss the newcomer for the farm’s established pedigree (circa 1905 states the label). The quality of the wines and their packaging is linked to its success, he explains.

The domain name continues, but Siguqa points to the southern ground hornbill, a native bird known as the insingizi, featured on this label. It is the totem of the clan of his ancestors Nziphazi Magoba, he explains. “We wanted to preserve history and recognize the people who were there before us, while bringing our own identity.”

The winery opened in December 2021 and is already making its mark in the tourism industry. Siguqa, who says nearby wineries help by suggesting visitors stop by their tasting rooms. The hope is to join other established black-owned brands and operations that have become staples on the wine route.

The Aslina brand was founded in 2016 by Ntsiki Biyela, a pioneering black winemaker in the country who works with grapes sourced from Stellenbosch to produce an exciting portfolio of red and white wines, including a refined and flavorful Cabernet Sauvignon. The Seven Sisters winery was started in 2007 by the seven Brutus sisters and their younger brother, working in a vineyard in Stellenbosch.

The first successes were seen in 2003, when Thandi became the world’s first Fairtrade certified wine brand and helped propel South Africa into the world’s top Fairtrade wine producer. Thandi Wines is 51% owned by 250 farm worker families who own three vineyards.

Gynore Fredericks, assistant winemaker at Mullineux & Leeu wineries in Stellenbosch and Swartland.Mullineux & Leeu family wines / Handout

Considered one of the elite winemakers working in South Africa, Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines recently established its own empowerment project, Great Heart, which operates as a separate company owned by its staff. Gynore Fredericks, who works as assistant winemaker at Mullineux & Leeu wineries in Stellenbosch and Swartland, makes Great Heart wines. “For the directors of the company, it’s not just about giving back, it’s about mentoring and leading people,” she says.

A graduate of Elsenburg Agricultural College in Stellenbosch, Fredericks was accepted into the Cape Winemakers Guild Development Trust Protégé programme, which offers aspiring winemakers three-year internships with some of South Africa’s top winemakers. She worked in the Tokara and De Grendel cellars in South Africa, and as a wine merchant in Burgundy before joining the Mullineux & Leeu team in 2018.

The Vintners Guild internship is one of industry initiatives to create stable jobs in a country where the unemployment rate currently hovers around 33%, but is rising to over 60% for older South Africans from 15 to 24 years old.

Workers own the Great Heart brand and use the Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines infrastructure to make and sell wine. Profits are distributed among staff members who have been employed for two or more years. The initial release of two white wines and two red wines was well received by writers and critics around the world. The project is commendable. The wines are sensational.

“Every year we get a dividend from the company, and I get to make the wine, so that’s a win-win situation for me,” Fredericks says. Beyond improving the livelihoods of staff and their families, the success of this massive undertaking is sure to open up greater opportunities for black economic participation in the South African wine industry.

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Elisha A. Tilghman