Two women. Both South Africans. Both mothers. Both beautiful. Both winemakers. Both wine entrepreneurs. But with very different stories.
The South African wine scene is still dominated by men. There are women wine makers, but women who own their own brands are as scarce as buried treasure in the vineyards. So I set out to find out more about Trizanne Barnard and Carmen Stevens, both of whom own their own successful brands.
Where did you grow up?
Carmen: In the Kraaifontein and Belhar areas on the bleak Cape Flats, then areas designated only for so-called “coloured” people.
Trizanne : In Vereeniging, an industrial town in the Vaal Triangle..
When did you know you wanted to be a winemaker?
Carmen: In junior school I read Mills and Boon romances, many of which were set in vineyards or a cellar, and from then on my heart was set on one day making wine. Nobody in my community knew you could study winemaking, but a friend’s uncle took me around Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, and he told me about Elsenberg Agricultural College and the University of Stellenbosch.
Trizanne: I knew I wanted to do something in science, but had never thought of wine. My first experience of agri-processing was working in my gap years at a kibbutz breeding koi fish. Then another year of working in London in silver service followed where I started to taste fine wines and my interest was piqued.
Where did you study?
Carmen: After doing a General Agricultural course with a vocational college in order to stand a better chance of getting into Elsenberg, I finally secured a place in 1993. I studied for a 3-year diploma in winemaking and viticulture and graduated in 1995. I was the first black person to graduate in South Africa as a winemaker. The 3 years at Elsenberg were challenging to say the least.
Trizanne: I did a Bachelor of Science degree in Viticulture and Oenology at the university of Stellenbosch, graduating in 2002. Yes, it was hard work, and also lots of fun.
Who inspired you in those years?
Carmen: Almost at the end of my final year, after facing many testing times, Charles Hopkins told me during a tasting that he had been watching my career at Elsenburg and really admired what I had achieved. That 2 minute talk altered a lot of things at that stage in my life. Also my mentor, Koos Jordaan played a real “dad” figure in my career.
Trizanne: I did my student internship with Gary Jordan who give me an insight into wine business…that there was far more to it than just farming and winemaking.
What was your first job as a winemaker?
Carmen: at Distell in the Zonnebloem Cellar under Koos Jordaan as MD.
Trizanne: at Klein Constantia, with Adam Mason.
Have you done any vintages overseas?
Carmen: Yes, with the help of Koos and Zelma Long I did a harvest internship at Simi Winery in Sonoma County and then later a harvest in the Rhone valley.
Trizanne: Yes, I used to work for French business owners and this gave me the opportunity to work abroad. I have completed vintages in Margaret River, Alsace, Bordeaux, Rhone and Douro.
What was your first breakthrough?
Carmen: My maiden vintage of the Tukulu Pinotage was awarded Veritas gold and was ranked a Top 10 Pinotage. (That is a big deal in South Africa).
Winning the Decanter 2008 International and South African Red Bordeaux Varietals Trophy for the Amani Cabernet Franc/Merlot 2006 was also a huge boost.
Trizanne: The first vintage (2005) I made as the winemaker at Anwilka, was unofficially rated by Robert Parker as the best South African red wine he had ever tasted. Anwilka was almost completely unknown then, so it caused quite a stir.
What made you decide to go out on your own?
Carmen: I’d always wanted to, but making that decision as a single mom was hard. So it took all the charm of Rowan Gormley of Naked Wines to convince me.
Trizanne: I’ve always known that I would need to work for myself if I wanted flexibility to work around a family, to manage my own time and to make the wine I like to drink.
How did you raise the capital?
Carmen: I didn’t have any capital but the finance Naked Wines raised gave me the courage to start, and initially Amani let me use their cellar. The Naked model is a great way of funding start-ups like mine and their loyalty to both their customers and their winemakers is key to their winning philosophy.
Trizanne: Capital was a huge problem, I literally did everything from hand to mouth, earning bits and pieces by making wine for other folk, consulting to a few producers, and then a great friend and colleague introduced me to UK importer, Off Piste, who were looking to source Sauvignon Blanc in South Africa. I have worked with them, sourcing and blending wine for some of their successful brands and that has given me the cash flow to grow my own brand.
What do you see in your future?
Carmen: building my brand offering with Naked Wines, but I also have my eyes on Africa.
Trizanne: recognition for South Africa as a premium wine producing country.
And when you do get down time?
Carmen: I spend it with my girls and I read a lot to stay relevant.
Trizanne: Spending time with my family and surfing the coast line of South Africa.
Hard work and skill have made both Carmen and Trizanne winners in the wine business world and proof of what is possible in the new South Africa.
Trizanne Signature Wines http://www.trizanne.co.za
Carmen Stevens Wines https://us.nakedwines.com/winemakers/carmen-stevens.htm