Seven Sisters Wine Rises To Top Of Industry Out Of Poverty

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Many people think wine is intimidating. Amateur sommeliers often speak at length about each aspect of the wine, from the look and color to the aroma to how the taste plays about the tongue. The entire wine experience can be prohibitively pretentious. That’s why it is so exciting to see someone like Vivian Kleynhans dominate in the wine industry. Vivian recounts her early days entering the wine industry in 2003. She confides that she had absolutely no clue what she was doing or what she was getting herself into. In fact, she even admits that she did not get into the wine industry because of a love for wine. ‘‘My entering the wine industry was not because I liked wine,” remembers Kleynhans.

Instead, she got into the wine business to make money. Ms Kleynhans grew up on the western coast of South Africa in a poor fishing village. She remembers not having any electricity or even bathroom facilities while sleeping in a small cottage. At an early age, her father lost his job and the family was evicted. The family scattered, she remembers, and each of her siblings split up to live with different relatives.

It was this point that she decided her family would never experience anything like that again. Vivian began to work as a human resources professional where she caught word of the government encouraging black citizens to take up lucrative career pursuits. And one of the most lucrative exports from South Africa is the $3 billion per year wine business. It is right then she made the commitment — Vivian Kleynhans would learn how to make wine.

vivian-kleynhans-picture-supplied_690x450_crop_7It turns out that she would not only learn the wine business, she would come to dominate it. A passion to provide for her family drove her to enroll in a wine college. Throughout attending wine college and after graduation she took in his many different wine management courses as she could.

She wasted no time in launching her company — Seven Sisters Wine — and she soon became one of the few black owners of the wine business in South Africa. Her passion for family shines in her products. Seven Sisters Wines represent seven women with different styles and personalities.

Odelia, for instance, is a people pleaser. She is sweet, well-balanced, rich in honey and smells of flowers. Carol, on the other hand, is a dark mystery. The full-bodied, deep red Cabernet is heavy on the dark fruit, reminiscent of vanilla and doesn’t let you forget her with a long finish. But Kleynhans’s commitment to family is not just figuratively represented in the flavors of her wine.

Her siblings also work at the business, helping to run the day-to-day operations and managing the overall direction of the company. Chefs, Sommeliers and moms will tell you that you can really taste love. When any consumable product is made with love, be it a five-star dish, a home-cooked meal or a glass of wine, you can really taste the difference. It is this passion, the love that she puts into her wine, that has vaulted her to the top of her industry.

According to the African Wine Industry Information and Systems, South Africa is the eighth largest wine producer on the planet. Even in a crowded market, Seven Sisters Wine rose to prominence. Seven Sisters Wine has even achieved great success in countries around the world like Nigeria, China, the United Kingdom, the Scandinavian countries, and nearly all states in the US.

Seven Sisters Wine is the first ever South African wine to be served on American Airlines. And the winery is high-volume because it is sold in Walmart stores across the world. It wasn’t easy for Vivian Kleynhans or Seven Sisters Wine in the beginning. She had to overcome major setbacks including bankruptcy, racial bias and sexism in order to succeed.

Vivian Kleynhans nearly gave up before it all started. She didn’t have the money to start her own production so she had to buy grapes from other makers in South Africa. But her first purchases turned out to be sour grapes. The wine from the purchase was undrinkable and she nearly lost everything because of it. She took out a second mortgage on the home when her son chimed in. He wondered why she had lost all of the family’s money. That’s when Vivian Kleynhans decided to double down. She was determined never to be taken for a fool again and she started to attend as many wine business classes as she could. It was most difficult right before she made it big.

The wine industry was rejecting the newcomer.

The sentiment was that the wine business had been in place for over three centuries and she wasn’t going to be able to change the game in a lifetime. That bias was the hardest part, she remembers. At the time, there was a sea change in South Africa. The government was promoting black business ownership while encouraging established businesses to embrace their new peers. This helped Vivian Kleynhans just a bit as Seven Sisters Wine was getting off the ground.

Vivian Kleynhans is the middle child of seven sisters and one brother, but she thinks it is the reason she runs the business. She was forced to settle any arguments between her siblings, acting as the moderator of any crisis, so she eventually commanded the respect of all her siblings. That’s why, she believes, they let her run the business unencumbered.

She consults her family every once in a while in order to get advice on some of the bigger decisions, but Seven Sisters is hers and hers alone. And she has risen it to the top. She believes that her story may help to inspire other women across the world. That’s why Walmart picked her brand to be sold worldwide, she believes. A black-, female-owned business in South Africa tells the consumer a tale of perseverance. Especially, as Vivian Kleynhans puts it, because she did it all on her own with no handouts.

Thanks to Melissa Johnson.

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