A CLOSER LOOK: AFRICAN R
AFRICAN ROOTS WINE BRANDS,
a little-known South African company, had big
dreams of its Seven Sisters wine becoming a
household name. But the legacy of apartheid hindered the upstart’s ability to get wide distribution
in its own backyard.
“Black people didn’t own any land or vineyards
in the apartheid years,” explains Vivian Kleynhans,
managing director of African Roots Wine Brands.
“From 1994, when we became a democratic country, we were allowed to move into new industries.”
And by 2005, African Roots Wine Brands was
ready to market wines locally. But it was having a
tough time going up against the less-expensive
offerings from South African farmers who produce
wine on land they own.
“We can never be as cheap as the farmer-owner
unless we farm ourselves, so that is the challenge
we sit with in South Africa. Our wines are a bit more
expensive because of all of the steps we have to go
through because we don’t own the land,” Ms.
Kleynhans explains. “It’s very hard to work this side.”
Faced with a tough audience at home, the company needed to look beyond its borders. And it just
so happened that Ms. Kleynhans’ booth at the first
annual Soweto Wine Festival attracted the attention of Selena Cuffe, a tourist from the United
“She asked to taste the wine and asked if it was
available in the United States,” Ms. Kleynhans says.
“I laughed and said ‘You can’t even find it in South
Africa on the shelves, let alone America.’”
Eager to help indigenous African vintners navigate
the unfamiliar—and often daunting—U.S. regulatory
environment, Ms. Cuffe launched Heritage Link
Brands. The Los Angeles, California, USA-based wine
importing and distribution company opened a month
later in October 2005.
And the project to introduce Seven Sisters in
the United States officially kicked off.
A small u