Seven wines for Seven Sisters

Wednesday, 11 December, 2013
Seven Sisters Vineyards
To Vivian Kleynhans, owner of African Roots Wines, wine represents more than just business and craftsmanship - it also represents sisterhood. Through her company, which is based in South Africa’s Western Cape, she produces Seven Sisters wines.

Each of the seven wines was developed based on the personality of Kleynhans or one of her six sisters: Vivian (Sauvignon Blanc), Dawn (Pinotage/Shiraz), June (Merlot), Carol (Cabernet Sauvignon), Yolanda (Moscato), Twena (Rosé) and Odelia (Bukettraube, a sweet white wine).

Kleynhans, who grew up in poverty with her sisters and one brother in Paternoster, a small fishing village on the western coast of South Africa, said she launched her first wine business after a conversation about exports during a 2003 dinner at the house of the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa - a dinner she attended with a client that was contracting her for human resources work at the time. All her life, she knew she wanted to own and operate her own business. But she didn’t realize until then that she’d get her big break in wine.

“I was interested to know more about this industry, and learned that it covers 8 percent of our country’s employment,” she stated. But “people of color were still 100 percent laborers on these farms - and yet to be owners of land or of wine businesses.”

Kleynhans noted that she learned all about the industry and eventually started the business, but the industry’s cold reception of non-white business owners caused everything to fail within three years. Instead of giving up, however, she turned to her sisters for support - and inspiration.

“I gathered my sisters and told them about my dream,” she stated. “My family and sisters thought I had gone crazy, but they bought into the idea. I enrolled in a wine management course at the business school of Western Cape’s Stellenbosch University during the day, and at night would do wine-tasting courses at the Cape Wine Academy.”

When she was ready to develop her first line of products, Kleynhans gathered her sisters together and had each one write about each other and their personalities. They matched each personality description to a varietal and named that wine after the corresponding sister. They then worked with the Institute of Masters of Wine to taste various wines and select which ones were worthy of each sister’s name and personality. And thus, the Seven Sisters line was born.

But it wasn’t until Kleynhans exhibited her wines at a local fair that she thought about distributing abroad. An American woman stopped by for a sample, and was greatly impressed with the quality of the wines and the story behind them, asking where she could purchase the products in the United States.

“At the time, I did not have an international market in mind,” she explained, noting that afterward, Selena Cuffe - an African-American importer of black-produced wine from South Africa and the African Diaspora - became an importer of the Seven Sisters’ wines to the United States.

Cuffe became like family to Kleynhans, and today, Seven Sisters exports its wines to 42 U.S. states, selling them through a number of retailers, including Walmart (as of August). It also offers its products for private labeling under retailers’ store brand programs, Kleynhans explained.

“We are one of the largest wine-producing countries, and I am positioned in such a way to easily do private labeling,” she said. “In fact, when I entered the wine industry, people were not aware of private labeling and how it could help any business in all sorts of ways. With my company, we have changed people’s perspective.”

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