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SA’s first black winemaker wins yet more recognition

Through sheer grit and resilience, Carmen Stevens has built a winemaking empire, resulting in numerous industry awards and, most recently, earning her the title of ‘Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year’ at the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year competition sponsored by Sanlam and Business/Partners.

Stevens, the founder of the independent small-batch winery based in Stellenbosch, Carmen Stevens Wines, was recognised not only for her entrepreneurial excellence, but also for the commitment shown to her community, at the annual awards ceremony, held in Johannesburg on Sept 4, 2019.

“I have full faith in the product we produce and the business I’ve built, but each award serves as validation for all the hard work we put in, day in and day out. To be recognised for my passion is even more of a victory for me,” says Stevens, who hails from the Cape Flats.

Stevens faced multiple barriers to entry in the industry, having been denied admission to South Africa’s top winemaking schools twice because of the colour of her skin.

However, this didn’t stop her from becoming South Africa’s first qualified black winemaker in 1995. She then established her winery in 2011, after paying her dues in the local winemaking industry and having spent 10 years in California.

From humble beginnings, the business today produces 150 tons of wine and in 2018 had a turnover of R8.1-million.

Stevens says that innovation and continued creativity have played a major role in this success.

“Constant product innovation is key to the business and ensures that we continue to tap into new target markets. This has resulted in the creation of a sparkling wine aimed at novice wine drinkers and vegan-friendly wines, to name a few.” 

Despite this well-earned businesses success, Stevens remembers her early childhood desire to make a difference and leave a mark on the world.

It is with a great sense of fulfilment and joy that she speaks of her community outreach programme, which serves her old neighbourhood and surrounds.

“Nothing beats a good education and healthy nutrition, but unfortunately where I am from, there wasn’t always money to ensure children had access to these vital needs.”

An entrepreneur with heart

In the year she established her own label, she knew she wanted to give back and so she started the Carmen Stevens Foundation.

Working closely with Naked Wines and her extensive network of overseas clients (“Angels”), Carmen started supporting the efforts of the Peninsula School Feeding Association (PFSA) with a soup kitchen.

Her investment in really getting to know her customers through her strong online presence and inspirational story has resulted in many of them becoming regular supporters of the foundation. 

“The generosity of our ‘Angels’ and our ongoing fundraising campaigns over the years have raised millions for the PFSA. Over the last three years, more than one million meals have been served to over 6 000 learners affected by poverty in 11 communities in the Western Cape, including Kraaifontein, Belhar and Elsies River. The initiative also employs 42 women who prepare the food,” she explains.

On being named the 2019 Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year, Carmen says that she has big plans for the future. She wants to carry on doing what she loves, while giving back to her community and supporting those in need.

“My goal is to have a home for my wine and to own my own vineyards within the next five years, that way I can give more women a children a second chance at a better future.”

Visit www.nakedwines.com/producers/carmen-stevens for more information.

Source: Entrepreneur of the Year

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