The incredible perseverance of Carmen Stevens

Published by The Naked Narrators - 7th Aug 2020

She’s fought for every win – and won.
Read the story of Carmen Stevens – South Africa’s first Black woman winemaker and independent trailblazer at nakedwines.com.

To be recognized for my passion is even more of a victory for me,” Carmen told wine writer Jancis Robinson. Image courtesy of jancisrobinson.com. Read the full article

Carmen Stevens is a true lionheart – making world-class wine, and world history

As a Black woman pursuing a winemaking career in apartheid-era South Africa, Carmen Stevens – aka, the “barrel-wielding dynamo” – had to roar to be heard.

With a 5-year-old dream of becoming a winemaker that followed her into adulthood, Carmen applied to study winemaking at Elsenburg Agricultural College in Stellenbosch in both 1990 and 1991 –

Only to be turned down because of her color.

“In 1990, the political landscape of South Africa was extremely unstable. Riots were happening everywhere and the future of the country was uncertain.

With this scenery, it is hard to imagine that somewhere along the Cape Flats; a young Carmen Stevens had plans to enter the wine industry…

…An industry that was then not only hostile to women, but also significantly hostile to persons of color.

How Carmen Stevens became a globally beloved, award-winning winemaker by Duncan Masiwa. Read the full article

Undeterred, Carmen took her third application to the department head of the college

It was time to get the opportunity she rightfully deserved.

As the system of apartheid finally collapsed, Carmen made history as South Africa’s first woman of color to graduate from winemaking school in 1995.

With the support of nakedwines.com, Carmen Stevens Wines became the first 100% Black-owned winery in South Africa. Support her here.

She wasn’t done leveling up

After working in the local wine industry for over a decade, Carmen established her own winery in 2011 with the help of nakedwines.com – going on to win pinnacle achievement awards like Winemaker of the Decade and South Africa’s Entrepreneur of the Year.

Carmen Stevens Wines is the first 100% Black-owned winery in South Africa and the sole Black woman-owned wine business in the country.

It’s an honor she takes with great pride, reflecting on the toughness she had to endure on her path.

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.

An interview with Carmen Stevens, The Solutionist Thinking Podcast . Listen to the full episode.

With Angels’ help, Carmen became South Africa’s first 100% Black-owned winery

Carmen’s dream of owning her own winery came via an introduction to nakedwines.com in 2011.

It was then she met with company founder Rowan Gormley and global wine buyer Eamon Fitzgerald.

With the backing of 2,000 Angels, Carmen raised the funds she needed to launch her wine brand in the UK. In 2012, her wines were introduced in the US.

And over 300,000 wine drinkers say she’s one of the coolest winemakers in the business

Today Carmen is one of nakedwines.com’s most popular winemakers worldwide.

With support from hundreds of thousands of Angels on both sides of the Atlantic, Carmen’s also made a lifelong promise to pass that support to her own community.

“I have full faith in the product we produce and the business I’ve built, but each award serves as validation for all the hard work we put in, day in and day out. To be recognized for my passion is even more of a victory for me.”

– Carmen Stevens, interviewed for Entrepreneur of the Year
Founded in 2011, The Carmen Stevens Foundation supports children from underprivileged communities to improve the environment for education.

Carmen’s leading the way for the next generation

In addition to making wines for Angels around the world, Carmen runs a soup kitchen and helps provide meals for school children around Stellenbosch.

It’s where three out of four children go hungry every day. The kitchen has expanded from feeding a couple of the workers at the winery to a project that brought up to 400 children a week from across the Winelands. And that was before Angels got involved!

To date, you’ve helped her provide over 1.3 million meals and counting.

She’s fearlessly generous — because she sees the same fire in you.

That’s what Carmen especially loves about being a part of the nakedwines.com community  — because you’re always here to help, and break down barriers too.

And asking the wine industry to join her in the change

Carmen’s never feared challenging industry norms. In fact, it’s her passion and drive that show the world the incredible things that happen when you give power to new voices.

“I feel obligated to talk openly about the subject of transformation and how slowly the wheels of change are turning,” Carmen said.

“My role is also to speak openly about how rarely these brand owners are asked to take part in industry decisions, decisions that are made on our behalf.”

2019 documentary The Colour of Wine focuses on the stories of young black winemakers – including Carmen Stevens – in South Africa. Directed by Akin Omotoso.

For nakedwines.com, that means establishing mentorship programs and scholarships for winemakers of color and underrepresented groups in the industry.

These winemakers need a chance – and a helpful hand.

It’s stories like Carmen’s and support like yours that keeps us pushing to place diverse winemakers front and center.

The community of nakedwines.com inspires her to effect as much change as she can…

… while she’s working with local grapegrowers
… harvesting grapes and maintaining her winery
… running the Carmen Stevens Foundation
… serving as an advocate and public speaker
… filming documentaries
…. and sponsoring University students to study winemaking

…all done in the in-between hours she finds as a mother of two.

Winemaker, changemaker, soul-shaker – no matter how you know Carmen, you know she’s changing the industry for the better.

I want to make it clear that Black-owned brands such as mine are here to stay and they should be one of the industry’s top priorities and not the last point on the agenda or an afterthought.

Carmen Stevens Challenges the Status Quo by Jancis Robinson.

You can continue to support Carmen Stevens wines (and write to her if you’d like!) by visiting her winemaker page on nakedwines.com.

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