The Black Cellar Club (BLACC) is a young organisation with a mission to share the story of South African wine.
The Cape's wine farms are best known for being the intersect of tourism and the business of wine. They also are essential for education and training, as the Black Cellar Club (BLACC) has shown since its establishment in 2016.
BLACC is a voluntary association created "to reach out to black Africans … interested in furthering their wine knowledge". Its launch chairman, Gregory Mutambe, described BLACC's creation as "a very personal initiative".
“Like my fellow board members, wine was not something I grew up with. My parents never drank wine at the dinner table. Yes, there was alcohol but certainly not wine. This is the case for most black Africans. With BLACC our aim is to change this scenario, to change perceptions around wine and to facilitate making wine and the knowledge thereof accessible to all South Africans by raising awareness about it.”
The organisation's founding constitution listed its commitment to amongst others, "enhance the growth of the wine industry while working hand-in-hand with farmers, workers and interested parties" and "the interconnectivity of the African wine industry with its fledgling group of members hailing from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe".
Among its 1000 members are wine stewards from some of South Africa's top hotels and restaurants. They include the likes of Pearl Oliver, bar manager at One&Only Resorts and chairperson of BLACC; The Test Kitchen head sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka; La Colombe sommelier-turned-winemaker Joseph Dhafana; and, Patson Mathonsi, head sommelier at Johannesburg restaurant DW 11-13.
Meet Minnie Mthombeni
Karibu assistant sommelier Minnie Mthombeni heads the Cape Town chapter and started her journey in hospitality at Pieter Veldsman's Waterfront restaurant, Emily's, in 2004. In 2015 she graduated with a Level sommelier qualification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. She has visited more than 20 estates and it's always a thrill for the heritage and "outstanding hospitality".
The mountaintop estate of Iona in Elgin stands out. "We received five-star treatment; the wines are spectacular; and, views are breath-taking. We visited once but left with such beautiful memories. I remember the home-made springbok pie with their One Man Band red blend – heavenly!
Minnie says she's a fan of big, bold wines. "The riper the fruit the better," she declares. As favourites, her chart-toppers – "at the moment," she adds – are 2007 Simonsig Pinotage, 2008 Morgenster Estate Reserve, 2013 Abrie Beeslaar 2013 and 2013 Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon.
"An old wine that surprised me recently was the 2010 Kumkani Sauvigon Blanc. It was delicious, paired with mussels in a white wine and garlic sauce served with crostini."
Minnie supplements her wine knowledge by keeping in touch at wine festivals too. "They're great for showing new talent and catching up with trends in food and wine. Festivals that bring wine to ekasi are great and lets you mingle with the who's who!"
Meet Prosper Gundura
Also on the Cape Town executive is Prosper Gundura, sales associate responsible for key accounts at liquor retailer Norman Goodfellows. "I love wine!" he declares. "My passion is not only about sharing a glass with friends, but also to share the stories, the inspiration and experiences of the pioneers, the winemakers and those who came into the industry before us. In addition to feeling like big family, wine offers a multitude of opportunities and prospects of career growth to those who choose it as a profession."
He's declines to single out specific experiences of the winelands for fear of sounding unfair to his other hosts. Instead, he mentions his most recent: harvest at Cederberg Wines. "David Nieuwoudt treated us to an incredible itinerary including full experience of winemaking. We began our days at 05:30 in the vineyards and concluded them with tastings of incredible wines each evening.
"On our final night he even threw in a vertical of his celebrated Teen Die Hoog CWG Shiraz, which was so special for me.
"It’s always great to learn more about wine, and even more special when a top producer sets time aside to share their knowledge and experience," says Prosper.
Reflecting on personal wine memories, he says a particular birthday celebration with his wife stands out. "We decided to open one of my presents from my friends at Springfield - a bottle of their Méthode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon 1997. It felt super special to enjoy a beautiful wine with a home-cooked meal, and to appreciate every sip in the company of the love of my life. It was one bottle I didn’t want to finish. I still have one left!"
Meet Athule Kamanga
Enjoying wine with food and friends is also the passion of Athule Kamanga, BLACC Western Cape Chapter Ambassador. He admits to a weakness for pinotage because of its South African heritage.
Athule is driving plans for new wine and spirits festival in the Cape Town township of Langa that he envisages as a point of introduction and education between producers, marketers and consumers.
"It's also very important that a new generation be shown paths in tourism that wine and other local liquor products offer."
He appreciates the opportunities that wine and an organisation like the BLACC have opened. "I have grown and learnt from the winemakers, and travelled to many estates. I've been privileged to taste some of the finest in South Africa," Athule says.
"I love the journey that wine shows you, not only across the country and the world, but also through history. It's a story that more people need to hear."
Along with a dozen other BLACC members, Athule was part of a most recent three-day tour hosted by the South African Brandy Foundation, which visited several brandy homes around the Cape including Van Ryn's near Stellenbosch, Grundheim near Oudtshoorn, Kingna near Montagu, Boplaas in Calitzdorp and Oude Molen in Grabouw.
The occasion brought the group in contact with a broad spread of South Africa's brandies, including world champions and small country producers.
Take a taste trip with the BLACC sommeliers to several brandy homes.