Pearl Oliver (chairperson of Blacc)
Pearl Oliver (chairperson of Blacc)
Aubrey Ngcungama (co-founder, left), Gregory Mutambe, Pearl Oliver (chairperson) Luvo Ntezo, Mercy Mwai, Joseph Dhafana and Ian Manley (co-founder). PICTURE: Marlowe Brett
Aubrey Ngcungama (co-founder, left), Gregory Mutambe, Pearl Oliver (chairperson) Luvo Ntezo, Mercy Mwai, Joseph Dhafana and Ian Manley (co-founder). PICTURE: Marlowe Brett

Durban - The Black Cellar Club (Blacc) is on a mission to  unite sommeliers, winemakes and anyone in the hospitality industry committed to empowerment. Co-founder of Blacc, Aubrey Ngcungama, says that even a cursory evaluation of the local wine industry proves that there are many talented, passionate black people who love working with wine and sharing it with others. 

"I had given it some thought and soon realised that there was a wonderful community of sommeliers and hospitality people who just happened to be black. 

"And when I approached Ian Manley (a PR guru) to chat about my idea, he got excited because he had also recently had the same conversation."

This is how Blacc was born and then officially launched on September 12, 2016.

Ngcungama describes Blacc as a club rather than an organisation because he says “a club can have various meanings.” They are a group of sommeliers and winemakers and are passionate about local wineries. Membership is voluntary, and there are regular events that Blacc members are invited to, usually at wine farms. “It’s all about celebrating the community (of people in the wine industry), and anyone is welcome to join us; we truly believe South Africa makes the best wine in the world, and it must be celebrated.”

He’s also all too aware that the wine industry has historically been a domain that black people were excluded from and that even in a democratic dispensation there are many people who still believe that the wine industry is an “all white” industry. It definitely is not, and groups such as Blacc want to build on the great strides that have been made. Members get together on what they have coined #BLACCMonday’s, and although it’s a time and space for them to socialise, it’s also an opportunity to tackle some of the challenges they face in the industry.

“We’ve had discussions, and in the near future, we hope to launch a bursary scheme,” says Ngcungama.

One of Blacc’s members is talented Zimbabwean sommelier and wine-maker Joseph Dhafana. In December 2009, Dhafana and his wife entered South Africa as refugees and through sheer tenacity, drive and passion, he has become the 7th Sasa-certified sommelier in South Africa. Dhafana is the first one to join the ranks in two years, and his remarkable story is mirrored in the backgrounds and lives of many others.

Ngcuncama says: “The fact is that most of our members and the majority of black people in the industry have incredible stories and have overcome their circumstances to become leaders in their field.” In November, Blacc, powered by Vula Afrika, will host a very special wine festival in Langa where they want to put all their members’ talents to good use in a community where fine wines might not be top of mind. The event aims to display 14 of the best wineries in Cape Town and South Africa, and the sommeliers will be on hand to share their wine knowledge with anyone keen to taste the fruit of the vine. Ngcungama adds that this is not going to be an event in a township where visitors are jetted in and locals stand on the sidelines and watch. Blacc also hopes that young people in Langa who might never have considered a career in wine or viticulture are inspired to explore these career options.

Ngcungama says: “It’s about the progress of our members and helping each other progress.”

He adds: “We want to show the world what is possible and they have embraced every possibility out there and excelled.”

The Mercury