RMB Solutionist Thinking
4198-bruce-whitfield-solutionist-series-season2-banner-700x300png

Like her wines, this winemaker has flourished in some tough conditions

RMB Solutionist Thinking is a podcast series hosted by Bruce Whitfield which focusses on great South African minds thinking differently and going against the norm. In this episode in the second series, Whitfield interviews Carmen Stevens, winemaker and Chief Executive Officer of the Carmen Stevens Foundation.

Becoming an award-winning winemaker in a male-dominated industry wasn't a seamless transition for Carmen Stevens. Her progression is stained with painful, oppressive memories from a time she says, she never wants to relive.

Hailing from a suburb in the poverty-stricken Cape Flats – an area designated on the outskirts of Cape Town for so-called coloured people – Carmen wasn't your average child.

As a little girl, Carmen struggled with a learning disability that meant she unable to read and write English. Determined to see her daughter succeed, Carmen's mother sat with her as she read Mills & Boon novels, night after night. Set against the romantic backdrop of the Vineyards of Calanetti – the novels not only resulted in a love for reading but, set fire to her dream of being a winemaker.

I said to my mom one day, I'm going to be a winemaker.

Carmen Stevens, winemaker at Carmen Stevens Foundation

To fulfil her lifelong dream, Carmen was about to unknowingly undertake a battle that would set the tone for her entire life as an activist against prejudice, in her case, just to be given the opportunity to learn how to make wine.

After matriculating and, despite the fact that there was no funds for her to attend – Carmen applied to Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute in the Western Cape to study the art of winemaking in 1990 and, was refused based on colour. She reapplied in 1991 and 1992 as the Apartheid regime was being demolished but, was refused because she did not have an agricultural background and later, because she did not complete military service unlike the 95% of Elsenburg's student base.

By this time, Carmen had had enough and threatened to expose the college in the media. In the January of 1993 – the first year that Elsenburg accepted girls into the college – amid 100 students, Carmen was the only coloured girl among the five girls that were accepted to attend.

The environment was hostile, but there was no alternative.

To fund her studies, Carmen spent months working in a factory in Elsies River, sold shoes and chocolate eclairs as a hawker at Cape Town station.

It was in her second year at the college, that things became especially unbearable. Carmen was enduring racism, sexism and paternalism from both male students and lecturers. By the half way point in the year, she felt like she was at breaking point.

In my second year, it became unbearable, really unbearable, to a point where my mom said to me, you pack your bags or I'll come and pack it for you... It was a time that I never in my life want back, it was horrible, it was racism at its best.

Carmen Stevens, winemaker at Carmen Stevens Foundation

As a last resort, Carmen confronted the Head of Agriculture in the Western Cape and, shared her story with him. He made drastic changes, things improved and in 1995, Carmen graduated as the first person of colour to qualify as a winemaker in post-Apartheid South Africa.

Her breakthrough may have been unexpected but since then, Carmen has gone on to become one of South Africa's best-selling winemakers and has received international recognition for her wine.

She received the funding she needed from Naked Wine – a company that invests in independent winemakers around the world, using a venture capital approach to bring high-end wines to consumers at cheaper prices. Its angel investors raised a total of 1.2 million in 10 hours for Carmen to launch her own wines, Carmen Stevens Wines – which has consistently remained one of Naked Wines’ best sellers.

Today, Carmen has her own cellar in Bosman’s Crossing in central Stellenbosch. But, while it forms part of Amani Vineyards – South Africa's first 100% black-owned winery – she aspires to have a facility that she can call her own.

To give back to her community, the award-winning winemaker registered a non-profit organisation called Carmen Stevens Foundation and appealed to the angel investors at Naked Wines and managed to raise over R1.2 million to feed hungry school children affected by poverty in the Western Cape.


Recommended

by NEWSROOM AI
Read More
To this solutionist thinker, all-access means success

To this solutionist thinker, all-access means success

William Mapham pioneered Vula Mobile, the app that links healthcare workers with on-call medical and surgical specialists.

Meet the technologist disrupting the freight industry

Meet the technologist disrupting the freight industry

Meet Benji Coetzee, a tech disruptor transforming the face of the male-dominated freight transport industry.

There's a medal haul coming in Tokyo, if this coach has anything to do with it

There's a medal haul coming in Tokyo, if this coach has anything to do with it

Rowing coach Roger Barrow shares his love for winning - especially against better-resourced teams.

Yoco: Small business' saving grace

Yoco: Small business' saving grace

South African fintech venture, Yoco is ensuring that SMEs become the driving force behind wealth development within communities.

Tech-first, solutionist startup disrupts insurance industry

Tech-first, solutionist startup disrupts insurance industry

New kids on the block, Naked is stripping down the costs of car insurance and, rebuilding it with social impact and fairness.

Gary Kirsten, bowling over the kids of Khayelitsha

Gary Kirsten, bowling over the kids of Khayelitsha

Here's how South African cricketing legend, Gary Kirsten is bridging the divide and, giving black cricketers a fighting chance.

Aisha Pandor, tackling unemployment with dignified work opportunities

Aisha Pandor, tackling unemployment with dignified work opportunities

Bruce Whitfield interviews award-winning South African scientist, businesswoman and Chief Executive of SweepSouth, Aisha Pandor.

How a local designer is taking the global stage by storm

How a local designer is taking the global stage by storm

Bruce Whitfield interviews South African designer and founder of a Xhosa-inspired knitwear brand, Laduma Ngxokolo.

What if Earth’s solutions are in space?

What if Earth’s solutions are in space?

Bruce Whitfield interviews theoretical physicist and extraterrestrial hopeful, Dr Adriana Marais.

Solutionist Thinking: Dr Judy Dlamini’s passport out of poverty

Solutionist Thinking: Dr Judy Dlamini’s passport out of poverty

Bruce Whitfield interviews the Chancellor of Wits University, a qualified doctor, businesswoman, and author.

Popular articles
Datsun Go is the cheapest car to maintain in South Africa

Datsun Go is the cheapest car to maintain in South Africa

The Toyota Etios has the cheapest "crash parts". The Money Show's Bruce Whitfield interviews consumer journalist Wendy Knowler.

'Domestic workers are entitled to 21 consecutive days of paid annual leave'

'Domestic workers are entitled to 21 consecutive days of paid annual leave'

Socio-Economic Rights Institute's Kelebogile Khunou says for living-in workers you cannot deduct more than 10% for accommodation.

The EFF is behaving like Zodwa Wabantu in Parliament, caller tells Eusebius

The EFF is behaving like Zodwa Wabantu in Parliament, caller tells Eusebius

702 listeners on the Eusebius McKaiser show share their views on the conduct of the political parties during the Sona debate.

[WATCH] SA youth choir shines on America's Got Talent with 'My African Dream'

[WATCH] SA youth choir shines on America's Got Talent with 'My African Dream'

The Ndlovu Youth Choir's beautiful performance got 4 yesses from the judges, including Simon Cowell!

TymeBank CEO Sandile Shabalala quits

TymeBank CEO Sandile Shabalala quits

Shabalala says he wants to spend more time with his family. Bruce Whitfield interviews portfolio manager Kokkie Kooyman (Denker).

Average salary in SA is R6400 per month, but 70% of workers earn less

Average salary in SA is R6400 per month, but 70% of workers earn less

About 29% of workers earn less than the R3500 national minimum wage, says Anish Shivdasani, CEO at Giraffe.

Discovery Health acted illegally and a patient died - Medical law consultant

Discovery Health acted illegally and a patient died - Medical law consultant

Shafrudeen Amod from Medisyn Clinical Consulting says the scheme could have paid the patient directly.

Investec gives staff unlimited leave days and freedom to wear what they want

Investec gives staff unlimited leave days and freedom to wear what they want

The bank rewards innovation with substantial bonuses and pays according to output not hours at work, says Lesley-Anne Gatter.