Honoring Women in Wine:
Stevens on the barriers she overcame in the South African wine industry
Interviewed by Nick Baines
1. How did you get your start in wine?
As a child I read teenage novels set in chateaus, vineyards and wineries. It was completely different from where I grew up and just sounded like a world that offered so much more than what I saw in my community. I told my mother that one day I will be a winemaker. Little did I know that the wine world in South Africa was white and very male.
I applied to study winemaking and was told that the institute where you could study winemaking was only open to white South Africans. I reapplied a year later and was told that I did not complete any military service, and didn’t have an agriculture background. I was accepted on my third application.
During 1992 I completed an agriculture course through correspondence I applied using those results and I think the political changes in South Africa forced the institute to accept my application. I qualified at the end 1995 as the first black winemaker in South Africa.
I worked in the SA wine industry for 17 years, before setting up my own brand thanks to an opportunity with Naked Wines. In 2019 I registered the first 100% black and woman-owned winery in South Africa.
2. Where are you in your career now?
I have my own winery in Stellenbosch and I love being able to make wine that I get the benefit from.
Being on my own means that I can make wines that I can put my heart and soul in, wines that carry my fingerprint. That’s very liberating if I think back to how I struggled to get into this industry.
3. How do Naked Angels empower you as a winemaker?
Angels give me the opportunity to work with not just the best fruit, but allow me to choose which growers I want to work with.
I have this amazing platform through Naked Wines to show so many people what I’m capable of producing from our different and diverse soils in SA. Angels have helped open a world of opportunities and career growth which I would never have been able to accomplish on my own or being a winemaker in any winery in SA.
4. What’s a BIG lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Don’t let people’s prejudice determine your future. Believe that if you can dream it you can have it, and opportunities come in many forms.
5. What’s the message you have for other women winemakers?
If you have your mind set on winemaking do not be deterred, go for it! Winemaking is hard work but once you understand and are willing to work for it, it will become your best life decision.
6. What is your big hope for women in wine in the future?
That we are seen as equals irrespective of which part of the world we make wine in.
Follow Carmen Stevens on Naked Wines
Nick Baines is a food and travel writer based in London.