FRANSCHHOEK, South Africa — He grew up resenting the scenic winelands near Cape Town, watching his mother toil in the vineyards so that white people could sip their merlots and chardonnays in luxurious cellars.
Yet here was Paul Siguqa on a recent Saturday, swirling a chenin blanc in the airy tasting room he now owned.
What Mr. Siguqa, 41, has accomplished is nothing short of exceptional: The son of a farm laborer, he saved for 15 years to buy, restore and last year open Klein Goederust Boutique Winery, the only fully Black-owned winery in Franschhoek, one of South Africa’s two most prestigious wine valleys.
But his achievement also raises a frustrating question: How is it that, in 2022, in a country that’s 80 percent Black, it’s still remarkable when Black South Africans reach some of society’s top rungs?
For all the progress South Africa has made since the days of the codified racial caste system of apartheid, its democracy remains 28 years young. The nation continues to struggle to shed entrenched inequalities that create a ceiling of sorts for economic success for the masses. There remain vexing racial disparities in wealth and land ownership.
White South Africans make up about 8 percent of the population, yet own 79 percent of privately held farmland, according to an analysis by Johann Kirsten, the director of the Bureau for Economic Research in South Africa. The disparity is even wider in the wine industry. Black people own only about 2.5 percent of the country’s vineyard acreage, according to a report by Vinpro, an industry trade group.
“We inherited nothing,” Mr. Siguqa said. “Because we are first generation, everything starts with us. So the burden’s a lot heavier.”
With charisma and a salesman’s touch — he pitches his personal story with the same flair that he describes his wine — Mr. Siguqa is hoping to help upend that imbalance. And not just in the wine industry.
“If it’s possible for a child of an uneducated farm laborer to be a farm owner, then it’s possible for the child of a domestic worker to become a doctor, a scientist and whatever that they want to be,” he said.
On a recent weekend, Mr. Siguqa discussed with a group of African-American visitors how he had come to own his winery, joining the handful of Black wine estate owners who have been pioneers in an industry that is difficult to access without generational wealth.
He told them he had operated on faith and that social mobility was possible, even as Black South Africans still have to battle for economic freedom. And by the time he got to explaining that every Black family had someone like his mother — “a strong Black woman that is a matriarch” — some of his guests were in tears.
“We’re so proud of you,” Jasmine Bowles, one of the teary-eyed guests from Atlanta, told him. “Thank you.”
Growing up in a two-bedroom cottage with his mother and sister on a Franschhoek vineyard about 10 miles from the one he now owns, Mr. Siguqa had considered the wine industry as part of the dead-end future that the apartheid regime had designated for Black people: labor, often backbreaking, in service of white people. Part of his mother’s salary was paid in wine (which Mr. Siguqa said she did not drink), in what was known as the dop system.
His mother, Nomaroma Siguqa, 71, told him that she would be the last generation of their family to work the fields.
“I wanted my kids to have an option and not live the tough life of being restricted to a farm,” Ms. Siguqa said.
So she impressed upon her children the importance of education.
As Mr. Siguqa leaned into his studies, he also revealed his business savvy. Nearing the end of high school, to save money for university, he began buying fruit from area farmers in bulk and selling it at a busy intersection. On the first weekend, he said, he made 875 rand (about $50), more than the 800 rand his mother earned in a month. Business became so brisk, he said, that he hired others to work for him.
It was around this time that Mr. Siguqa’s perspective on the wine industry began to change.
With apartheid over, he worked part time conducting tastings at the winery where he lived. He said he marveled at the sight of affluent Black visitors coming to enjoy the wine. It made him think that maybe there was more in the industry for people like him than hard, low-wage labor.
He resolved then, at 17, to own a winery someday.
After university, he successfully launched a communications company and an events company, all while searching for a wine farm he could afford.
The hunt got serious in 2019 when Mr. Siguqa found a winery selling for 40 million rand ($2.2 million). He asked his friend and winemaker, Rodney Zimba, to visit it. Mr. Zimba, 48, grew up with Mr. Siguqa, their parents laboring alongside each other on the same vineyard.
But when Mr. Zimba visited the winery, he knew it was not going to work because it was off the beaten path and difficult to find.
“We’re literally children of farm laborers, and I want people to see us,” Mr. Zimba said.
So he urged Mr. Siguqa to go with another property. It was smaller (24 acres), cheaper (12 million rand) and directly on the main road about five minutes outside of Franschhoek.
The only problem? It was dilapidated.
Still, Mr. Siguqa heeded Mr. Zimba’s advice and bought the property with cash in 2019. Mr. Zimba quit his job at an established winery to help lead the rehabilitation project and to become Mr. Siguqa’s winemaker.
“I think this is a legacy that we’re building here,” Mr. Zimba said.
Two years and 23 million rand ($1.3 million) worth of renovations later, Mr. Siguqa opened his winery on Dec. 3 of last year. It offers five varieties, including a shiraz, a cabernet-merlot blend and a dessert wine.
He said he kept the original name, Klein Goederust, established in 1905, because he knows the psychology of his country. Consumers might associate a brand named Siguqa Wine with lower quality because of the African name, he said.
“Apartheid did a heavy one on us mentally,” he said.
Still, his winery is imbued with his heritage.
A relatively small operation, it has an intimate feel with two rustic, brilliant white Cape Dutch buildings — a tasting room and a restaurant — surrounded by 16 acres of vines. What once was a horse stable and repository for the cheap wine given to laborers has been converted into a haute bar with a glass top.
To the Klein Goederust seal, Mr. Siguqa has added a rain bird, a reference to his clan name. His signature wine, a sparkling brut, is named after his mother — the Nomaroma Method Cap Classic.
“I’m extremely happy and proud,” Ms. Siguqa said — though she also has high expectations. She once told her son that the color of the brut was off and that he needed to keep working on it because Black people are judged harshly.
“My experience has taught me that everything needs to be a certain way,” she said. “It needs to be perfect every time.”
That sentiment has not been lost on Mr. Siguqa, who said he wanted to establish his wine business as premium from the outset because “as Black people, already there’s doubt to say, ‘Do these guys know what they are doing?’”
An employee recently told him it would take eight to 10 weeks for labels for the sparkling brut to arrive, but that she could get them quicker from elsewhere.
“No, it’s not going to be the same,” he told her. “We can’t compromise on quality.”
He already appears to be influencing the next generation of potential winemakers.
Sidima Ganjana, 23, who is from a township in the winelands, also grew up thinking the only thing the wine industry offered Black people like him was hard labor. But then he discovered an academy that trains disadvantaged youth in the wine sector, and he read an article about Mr. Siguqa. He wanted to learn how a Black man was able to buy a patch of earth that seemed to be the preserve of white people, so he went to the vineyard and asked to intern there.
“I don’t feel to him like it’s a business,” Mr. Ganjana said. “It seems like it’s something bigger.”
As Mr. Siguqa strolled his farm, he pointed to the plot where he planned to build a production facility to make his wines (currently, he rents out other wineries’ facilities) and to where a 20-room hotel would go.
Then he pointed over the wire fence at the back of his property, toward a cluster of tightly packed tin shacks near the foot of a grand mountain. It was Langrug, an informal settlement for Black workers who tend the vineyards.
Someone once suggested planting trees along his property line to block the view of the settlement, but Mr. Siguqa said he couldn’t do that. Because that divide between the largely white wine estates and Black labor is his history, and still the present for many.
“It’s a reminder of inequality,” he said. “It’s a constant reminder of how far we must still go as a country.”
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