You might be wondering why we started Kunye, The Wine Wise…
I’ve kept the Kunye website non confrontational. Here’s the raw version that I usually keep bottled.
In 2020 we watched the SA wine industry brought to it’s knees. I watched them beg the rest of the world to save the SA wine industry by buying our wines. I watched the majority of the wineries ignore 2 June 2020. I watched them continue to ignore the massive local market, who, contrary to misleading the international market, could purchase alcohol and support the industry. We just couldn’t distribute or move any alcohol.
I got sad. I got angry. I decided to try and do something about it.
Of the +3.2 million people living in this country, only 18% choose to drink wine. And 53% of those wines are sold at under R30.00 [SAWIS 2018]
SA has a long history of overlooking a large market of potential wine drinkers. For years we’ve listened to people talk about tapping into this market. And for years, we’ve watched them fail and wondered why. Is it a lack of interest from the industry in making wine consumption more diverse? Could it be the preconceived beliefs that wine is meant for the elite. There’s no point in beating around the bush – in South Africa, the elite are white.
It felt obvious to us that the best way to communicate with someone is to attempt to speak to them in their own language. How lovely is it when someone greets you in your language? And there’s something particularly endearing when that person struggles to speak the language, but still makes the effort.
We decided to make the effort by translating our book in Xhosa. Zulu is actually the most widely spoken home language in South Africa. But in the wine growing province of the Western Cape, Xhosa is the most spoken language after Afrikaans. We’ve been asked if we’ll be translating the book into Afrikaans. To which our polite answer is ‘you are welcome to help us translate the book if you believe South Africa needs another wine publication written in Afrikaans’.
49% of those wines are sold at under R30.00?
There’s a legacy of using wine to pay for labour, which has resulted in communities being decimated by the effects of alcohol abuse through the generations. A legacy that, despite the legal abolishment of this dop system in 1961, has been been passed down to younger people.
So many people in my community, family and neighbours, are teetotallers as a result of being raised in homes where their parent/s abused alcohol. There’s no denying that our country has many problems as a result of Apartheid, not least of which is poverty and the inequality that it perpetuates. I don’t blame people for resorting to the numbing effects of alcohol under the crippling and seemingly hopeless situation. But should we be making it easier to fall back on this abusive crutch by making wine so readily available at a price point that doesn’t result in a second thought? Should we be spending so much of time and resources on policing alcohol abuse? Would it not make more sense to educate communities from an early stage about the negative, and positive, affects of alcohol?
I don’t actually take issue with a wine being purchased for R30.00. If it was tasty, I’d buy it. But is it good? Or is just an easy vehicle to fast intoxication? And is it intentionally produced for this purpose?
My day job is a graphic design. I think about branding all day long. And I know that a brand’s strength lies in easy recognition. Which concerns me when, for some people, a cheap wine may be the most recognisable wine that they are exposed to. How many people truly believe that wine is just a sweet, cloying beverage based on their first and most common exposure to substandard product? If those were my only choices, I might also opt for beer, brandy or whisky instead.
The face of the industry
I don’t have any stats, and I know that over the years we have made massive changes to the diversity of the wine industry. Leaps and bounds. Partly BEE (Black Economic Empowerment for those not living in SA), partly guilt, but often a genuine desire to expand the diversity of all industry sectors in SA. When you look at the stats (that I haven’t quoted) – the empowerment and educational programs, and the employment demographics – it is clear to see that there has been so much change.
Yet. When I walk into a tasting room or a wine event, I am often one of only a handful of people of colour. Too often, I am the only person of colour. From a consumer point of view, I believe that this is the norm. When I am surrounded by people who look like me, the majority work in service and aren’t civilians.
I’ve felt uncomfortable and I’ve felt unwelcome. I’ve been ignored, and I’ve been treated like the token black girl in the room. I try to fly under the radar, refusing to have to justify my presence at social events…even though I can feel some people wondering. There’s a strange satisfaction (only because I’m a stubborn INFP Aries who likes being proven right) watching the contradiction between someone’s kind and appreciative words through the anonymity of the online world…and having that same person ignore me (and my glass) at a tasting.
BUT I can also, wholeheartedly say that when I have spoken up and shown my interest in wine, the wine industry has been INCREDIBLE. Generous winemakers sharing their knowledge and time. Stalwarts of the industry teaching me about the true history of winemaking in this country. Intimidating and respected wine journalists engaging me in debate and listening to my point of view. The South African wine industry is so wonderfully welcoming and generous with both their wine and knowledge…once they see your enthusiasm and interest.
I have to wonder why this warmth is not extended to everyone…and why I have to make the extra effort to peel back our inherent SA assumptions. Maybe there are a bunch more self conscious, introverted personalities who also won’t engage until someone approaches them.
I can’t help but believe that if there was more diversity in winemakers, legends, journalists, heads of wineries, and PR agencies, there would be more people who looked like me being welcomed at the party. There’d be more people of colour interested in pursuing a career in wine. And that cycle could be perpetuated, eventually resulting in an industry that reflects South Africa’s diversity at all levels.
I don’t have the stats. Quick… name a black Master of Wine. Name the one black Master Sommelier. We need a change.
So ja, Cassidy and I decided to do something. Head to www.thewinewise.co.za to find out more about how we’re trying to help make a change by offering a free wine resource aimed at educating consumers in multiple languages, and by using the profits from our wines to fund a scholarship to support previously disadvantaged people in SA further their wine education.