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Changing the Face of South African Wine

Changing the Face of South African Wine

Karen Magner

In one of the world’s most coveted wine-producing regions, South Africa, fewer than ten percent of those who consume alcohol choose wine.[i] Cassidy Dart, MW works with his partner, a professional graphic designer and WSET 3 holder who chooses to be referred to by her Instagram moniker, “Cape of Good Wine” (CoGW). They are on a mission to increase that percentage by bringing greater diversity and inclusiveness to the country’s wine industry. They are doing this by offering free wine resources to people living in South Africa and in a language other than English or Afrikaans. They’re changing the face of South African wine or in another way: Ukutshintsha imbhonakalo yewayini eMzantsi Afrika.

We need more people drinking wine and not being afraid of it.

–     Cassidy Dart, MW, The Wine Wise

Cassidy and CoGW just launched a non-profit wine brand, Kunye, which means “together” in Xhosa—the primary language of more than eight million South Africans. In line with their marketing tagline, “Wines that make a difference,” 100 percent of the profits from the sales of Kunye Chenin Blanc and Syrah will finance a scholarship fund in 2021 for previously disadvantaged people in South Africa to further their wine education.

Prior to the wine launch, the duo started The Wine Wise, a platform through which they offered free wine education to people living in South Africa. The classes were such a hit that they decided to convert the course slides into an e-book. They then had it translated into Xhosa—marking the first time in South Africa’s history that a consumer wine book has been translated into an indigenous language other than Afrikaans.

Recently, I interviewed Cassidy and CoGW to learn more about Kunye, The Wine Wise. I also held a Zoom session with several Wine Wise students to determine how the classes have impacted their wine journey.

KM: How did you come up with the idea for The Wine Wise course?

CoGW: Cassidy and I connected through a joint interest in sharing our wine knowledge with more people. South Africa’s alcohol ban has highlighted how, now more than ever, we need more local wine appreciators. We felt, through free education, we could inspire a greater interest in and respect for wine.

Cassidy: I had been thinking about this project for the past five years as it encompasses several things I am very passionate about: giving something back to South Africa, diversifying its wine landscape, spreading the magic of wine to a more inclusive audience, and setting up a scholarship fund to help those from underprivileged backgrounds to pursue their wine education.

KM: How were the classes received? Will you offer more?

Cassidy: We averaged between 25 and 40 consistent attendees who stayed connected for the entire session. Load shedding made it harder for people to join.

CoGW: We had one devoted participant standing at the bottom of her garden mid-winter, searching for a cell signal because she didn’t want to miss out while waiting for the electricity to return! A second alcohol ban saw a drop in morale, with many of us opting to drink water or tea to save our cellars. With each new week, we saw a wider range of people joining us – people from diverse backgrounds and differing levels of wine aptitude. Next year, we will be offering quarterly online masterclasses to our wine club members, for which membership is free.

KM: Did you plan to create an e-book when you launched the course?

CoGW: Not at all. After repeated requests to share the presentation slides, it was only halfway through the course that we decided to collate the slides into a concise document. The book became a way to fill in gaps and expand on topics.

KM: Why did you decide to translate the e-book into Xhosa?

CoGW: We thought it was important to reach out to people in their own language, and we’d like to challenge wineries to incorporate a line or two of Xhosa or Zulu in their marketing material. There’s an ongoing discussion about whether the Xhosa book will have any value, which has led to conversations about what it means to live in a country heavily influenced by its colonial history – where the vast majority of its people default to their second language, English.

Cassidy: As our original intention was two-fold—greater diversity at a wine consumption level, and greater diversity and more professionalism from an industry perspective—we thought it would make sense to provide a resource in another language apart from English and Afrikaans.

KM: How long did it take to translate the e-book, and what were some of the challenges?

CoGW: We greatly underestimated the amount of work it would take to translate the book. Lockdown and load shedding extended our initial naive ten-day estimation into more than three months of work. We were also attempting to translate a niche topic on a fraction of the wine industry’s budget at its disposal. The Xhosa version would not have been possible without the help of Mlondolozi Phute, a linguistics expert who is currently working on his doctorate in Xhosa. We felt humbled that he was willing to work with us to create one of our proudest achievements during this project.

KM: Can you tell us more about Kunye Syrah and Chenin Blanc?

CoGW: Cassidy’s MW thesis and my love of Swartland wines made the choice of region and grapes an easy one. As much as this has been about bottling wine to raise funds for a scholarship, it was also an opportunity to help a family-owned farm survive a difficult year.

Cassidy: South Africa still picks grapes by hand, and the huge, dry, and hot Swartland makes you stop to consider the vineyard workers in these harsh conditions. We opted for fruit-forward, unoaked, easy-drinking wines best served slightly chilled during these summer months.

CoGW: As for our marketing, we’re relying heavily on friends, family, and people who understand that scholarships are necessary for expensive wine education. It’s a tough calculation on how much money to spend to market a new brand, knowing full well we want to funnel as much money toward the scholarship. Author’s note: She is too self-effacing to include this, but CoGW donated her entire WSET diploma fund to creating the Kunye brand.

Photo Credit: Cape of Good Wine

KM: The label is beautiful. Do the symbols have specific meanings?

CoGW: Thank you. We opted for bright colors to minimize our production and maximize the profits for the scholarship, while still standing out in a crowd of exceptional label designs. Each of the squares on the label depicts a part of the history and hope for South African wine: the vines being brought across the seas, our beautiful mountains and landscapes, the diversity of our people and cultures, and the ongoing friction as we find a way to accept and appreciate each other under the constant gaze of the African sun.

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KM: How has the reception been to the wine and the e-book?

CoGW: Everyone who has heard about the project has immediately praised its intentions. We’ve just launched the wine and hope to see more e-book downloads as a result of the QR code on the swing tag. But we’d like to emphasise that the e-book is available for free to everyone – whether you’ve bought the wine or not. Even if your wine knowledge is advanced, joining the free wine club will also help us prove that more people believe in more diversity and inclusion in the wine world.

Cassidy: So far, we have had a very positive reception towards the wine, which is great, and we will be offering more classes soon.

KM: What will success look like to you?

CoGW: Success will happen when our stories are being told. I’m looking forward to Kunye, The Wine Wise becoming the vessel through which we can share our wine stories and show the industry that our voices count.

Conclusion

Judging from my conversation with the Wine Wise students, it would appear their voices and buying decisions are already starting to permeate the wine industry. Siphesihle, a Zulu speaker from Durban, changed her Instagram name to @grapesbytheglass and hopes to create content to inspire more people to drink South African wine. Liezl, who had already developed a palate from having visited more than 100 wine farms near Cape Town, now takes detailed notes and saves up premium wines. Deirdre said that the combination of Wine Wise and prohibition turned her into a wine collector, and she now seeks out South African wines with cellaring potential.

Wine Wise is my attempt to encourage more people to appreciate wine…so that, ultimately, when I’m next at the wine store, wine farm, or tasting event, I’ll see more people who look like me.

–     Cape of Good Wine, The Wine Wise

Carmine, who aspires to become a wine marketer and has started an Instagram account @winehops, perhaps summarized best why Cassidy’s and CoGW’s endeavors are changing the face of South African wine:

“I didn’t know wine was a teachable subject. I speak for myself from a race perspective. We are brought up with more alcohol than you care to pay attention to, but it’s abused; it’s not drunk well. You want a different life for your children. What Wine Wise has done is to help non-white or previously disadvantaged people to be able to access what could be a different career path. I would never have dreamed of going into a career in alcohol because there was nothing positive about it in my childhood. But now, what I’ve learned, and what I see in the wine industry is that wine can be socialized in a healthy way.”

Author’s note

Kunye wines are available for purchase in South Africa online via Instagram’s @thedarlingwineshop and will be available in the UK in January 2021 via @propeller.wine. The bottle will have a QR code for downloading the free e-book. In addition, if you visit www.thewinewise.co.za and sign up, you can download the e-book for free in either English or Xhosa. For those interested in the scholarship, check back here as applications will open in 202

[i] http://www.sawis.co.za/info/download/Book_2019_statistics_english_web_final.pdf