Carmen Stevens is the first Black female to register a 100% Black-owned winery in Stellenbosch.
What is the driving force behind your success?
To be and stay financially independent with the aim of offering my children and family better prospects now and in the future. Wanting to do better with each vintage I produce and wanting to leave a legacy that speaks of a person that did not just do a job but enjoyed the career path I chose for myself. Also, acknowledging that I have a role to play in the future of so many learners’ success at school level.
Tell us about your journey as the first Black female to register a 100% Black-owned winery in Stellenbosch.
The idea of making wine came to me through novels that I read when I was at school. It was the lifestyle that was associated with wine that initially triggered the idea; the wealth, opulence, and the green environment that were described in the novels.
What were some of the major hurdles you had to overcome?
I applied three times over a period of three years to study winemaking or be accepted to study winemaking. The first rejection was because the college was only open to white South Africans, the second was because I did not have an agriculture background, and the third rejection was because I didn’t do military service!
My challenges now are different, with market access being the biggest.
You have won numerous awards – did you always envision yourself as an entrepreneur in the wine industry?
No, I just knew that I wanted to do more than just work for a big company or corporate doing more admin than winemaking.
The world opened for SA and most winemakers ventured into making wines under their own names, which seemed like the ideal path to follow after working for big companies.
A major opportunity also presented itself to me when I was told by someone in the United Kingdom that if I made wines under my own name, they would buy them.
How did you make the best of the opportunities afforded to you?
Opportunity comes to all of us. I also think we do not see opportunity for what it is. To attend a school is an opportunity, to learn from others is an opportunity, to be exposed to different working environments is an opportunity, and people challenging you is an opportunity.
I knew studying would take me out of my immediate circumstances. I also knew I had one opportunity because money was an issue – so one chance to make a difference in my future – so I studied and worked hard so when I was presented with the words, “if you make wine under your own name, we will buy it”, I was ready because I have the knowledge and work experience to back it.
Tell us a bit about the Carmen Stevens Foundation.
The foundation was registered in 2016, five years after the programme started in 2011. It started small as I needed my kids to know how privileged they were, so we started with a cup of soup three times a week for school learners.
I always said not less than 300 and not more than 500 kids, and three schools. We provided that service to learners at school for four years. We now provide for 25 531 learners in 125 learning institutions (ECDs, primary and secondary schools ) – all thanks to the wine I make.
We provide food to the same community that I grew up in. I knew the need; my mother was a factory worker. People sometimes ask why these parents cannot provide for their own children – the short answer is that parents work and want to provide but life is not always fair or that straightforward. I know I come from that same cloth.
What is your philosophy about impacting positive change and empowerment?
Be the difference you want to see in others, inspire, encourage and be the motivation for those that do not realise what their potential is yet. If you can make a difference, you should.
What are some of the key lessons you have learnt, especially about remaining sustainable in challenging times?
See every failure as a soundboard for what not to do next time and find different ways to reach your goals. Be innovative and stay relevant, even if you need to look at competitors for guidance.
What needs to be done to unlock more opportunities for aspirant female entrepreneurs in the wine industry?
Consumers needs to become conscious buyers, buy from women and buy local, and buy the authentic story. That will open markets that will lead to unlocking business opportunities and the growth of women-owned businesses that speak to the whole value chain in the wine industry.
What advice would you share about becoming a successful winery owner?
Do not just accept “no” as an answer and know that you need to be able to understand and do the hard work before you can expect to be successful. You need to understand the whole value chain. This will help you in making good decisions.
What does the future hold for Carmen Stevens and Carmen Stevens Wine?
Growing a brand – not just a wine company – that makes wine.
For more info: www.carmenstevenswines.co.za