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South African Winemakers Tap Rising Black Market at Soweto Festival


South Africa is well-known for its wines, which are exported all over the world. But historically, fine wine inside the country was drunk primarily by the white minority and was appreciated by few black South Africans. South African winemakers hope to change this and held a wine tasting festival in Soweto, the country's largest black community. Correspondent Scott Bobb was there and has this report.

It is Friday evening on the Soweto campus of Johannesburg University. Vintners from 90 different wine estates are preparing some 800 different varieties of wine to present to Soweto's young and increasingly affluent population.

One of the founders of the festival, Mnikelo Mnagciphu owns Soweto's oldest wine shop. He says black South Africans are increasingly interested in their country's famous export.

"We felt that Sowetans were deprived," said Mnagciphu. "Many South Africans were deprived in that we produce so [such] good wine in South Africa but 80 percent of that is mainly for export."

South Africa's wine industry is more than 300-years-old but its major domestic market is among the white and other racial minorities. Blacks, who make up 80 percent of the population, traditionally drink beer, spirits and home-brewed alcohol.

As night begins to fall, the hall fills up with smartly-dressed, young professionals coming from jobs in government, industry and the service sectors.

The rising spending power of the black middle class totals an estimated one-fourth of all income in the country or more than $20 billion per year. This has made them the favorites of marketing agents who call them "the Black Diamonds."

Soweto resident Gerald Mokotedi is one of the 4,000 visitors who came to taste some wine.

"We know some few wines," said Mokotedi. "So we just want to explore with the other wines to see how they taste, what is the difference between a dry wine and a semi-sweet wine. Because most of us black people don't know more about wines, to be very honest. So we are gradually getting to know wine."

Under apartheid, Soweto was a suburban dormitory created to supply black labor to Johannesburg. Its streets were unpaved and without lights, its houses without electricity or running water. It was home to many leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle and its streets were the scene of violent anti-apartheid demonstrations.

But today, Soweto is South Africa's largest black community with a population of nearly two million people and an estimated spending power of nearly $2 billion per year. It has become a major trendsetter for the country.

In the meantime, consumption levels of wine in South Africa have stagnated in recent years. As a result winemakers are looking to South Africa's 40 million blacks to expand their business.

And blacks, encourage by government-sponsored programs to promote black-owned businesses, have begun to enter the wine industry.

Vumile Nkewu is a tall young man who owns the Vunani label. As he uncorks a bottle, he says wine is about lifestyle and blacks now have the income to experience it.

"[Black] people used to not go to restaurants to have meals," said Nkewu. "But now they go to restaurants and they see wine. They see people drinking wine with their meals. It gives you [them] a lot of interest."

Black women are also taking a stake in the wine industry. Nondumiso Pikashe is one of four teachers who founded the Ses'fikile label.

"Ses'fikile is a Xhosa word meaning, 'we have arrived.' It borrows from the history of our country, from our people as women," said Nondumiso Pikashe. "Because as women we have always been put aside, we've not been recognized as decision makers or as key players in the economy."

Ntsiki Biyela is South Africa's first and, to-date, only black female winemaker. She says now that wine is available to everyone the industry can grow.

"The black community in South Africa, we have a brighter future," said Ntsiki Biyela. "Even South Africa at large, I believe we have a brighter future. It's more how are we going to do it ourselves. It's more putting ourselves out there and facing the challenge."

There are only two dozen black winemakers in South Africa, less than two percent of the total number. They face stiff competition.

They are hoping black South Africans will provide new markets for their product. Given the turnout at this event, many of the country's 700 winemakers also have the same idea.

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