By Koketso Mamabolo

Zimbabwean-born sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka summed up the position many black sommeliers found themselves in when they began their journey: “I had never drank wine. There was no wine tradition in my house growing up,” said Nyamudoka, speaking to Seven Fifty Daily. The Black Cellar Club (BLACC) leverages its network to share knowledge and resources for those already in the industry and those trying to break through.

Founded in 2016, the club wants to create more black sommeliers and introduce wine to a wider audience. “At the heart of BLACC is a commitment to benefit and advance wine loving, wine curious and everyone in between, with knowledge through social activities and raising awareness. BLACC aims to make the enjoyment and journey of wine appreciation accessible to all,” says their website.

Sommeliers, like Pearl Oliver-Mbumba – who now works as a general manager of food and beverage outlets – find joy in seeing the happiness of guests who have the perfect wine to pair with their meal, and are pushing to see more young people getting involved. 

The idea is to have young Africans come on board and find a place [where] they feel comfortable,” said Oliver-Mbumba in Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

“There is a huge emerging black middle class in South Africa and Africa for whom affordability is not an issue. We know this to be the case with this market segment as we have seen it in their spending power when it comes to buying high end imported products such as Champagne and Cognac,” said Pearl, the former chairperson of the BLACC board, speaking to Travel Noire. 

“I believe this to be an enormous untapped market and one whose buy-in can only benefit the whole of the South African wine industry. When there is a better and more locally-focused wine culture amongst Black Africans, there will be a higher demand for locally produced wines.“

Considering that there are more than 90 000 hectares of vines under cultivation, with over 200 000 people employed by the wine industry, and a R55-billion contribution to GDP in recent years, increasing at 10% per annum, further growth would not only be an incredible achievement, but also a welcomed boost to the South African economy.

BLACC has two levels of leadership, the first is the Executive, who are elected by members of the organisation, who total almost 3 000. The Executive then invites members to the Guardian group, who support BLACC’s initiatives. The guardians implement programmes and seek out opportunities for the members. The majority of BLACC members are based in Cape Town and Gauteng.

BLACC Mondays is one of the approaches BLACC took. The objective being to provide support to sommeliers and stewards in forging links with winemakers and owners. Ten to fifteen members are taken on trips to visit wine estates, where they see the vineyards, network and taste wines.

As part of their drive to educate aspiring sommeliers, BLACC formed a partnership with the Asia Pacific Wine and Spirit Institution (APWASI) to create a scholarship programme for online wine education. Applicants need to explain how they plan to play a role in promoting diversity in the wine industry. 

“This fully funded scholarship program awarded by APWASI is intended to reinforce, widen and build sustainable diversity for future generations within the South African wine and spirits industry. APWASI’s commitment in supporting the “BLACC” community within the wine and spirit industry is a historic and significant step in this long, but purposeful journey,” said Dr. Clinton Lee, Executive Director of APWASI, at the launch of the programme in May of 2021. 

“We believe that through the engaging support that APWASI delivers, we can make that vital difference to help the next generation achieve their successes.”

With a rapidly growing membership, and ambitions based on a genuine vision for a more diverse and inclusive future, BLACC’s initiatives and the people behind them are sure to give us more Pearl Oliver-Mbumbas. She personifies the excellence possible, having served as an executive board member for the South African Sommeliers Association and judge of many competitions and lists. Diners around the country, and the world, can make their reservations here confident they will have a delightful wine to compliment their dishes.

Read more from the 22nd edition of Top Empowerment: