In another post-apartheid first for South Africa's wine industry, the Mont Rochelle Mountain Winery became the first wholly black-owned winery in the country. Ironically, the new purchaser is not a South African, but rather a businessman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
On July 1, Miko Rwayitare, owner of Telecel, the largest mobile-phone company in Africa, bought Mont Rochelle, in the Franschhoek Valley, for 17 million rand (almost $2.1 million) from Graham de Villiers.
De Villiers, a former advertising executive and the innovative chairman of the Wines of South Africa export organization, developed the 82-acre estate into a producer of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, beginning with its first bottling in 1994.
Mont Rochelle now has 22 acres of its estate under vine and also leases another 64 acres of vineyards in the valley; the winery has the capacity to handle production of up to 14,000 cases per year.
Although there have been numerous recent black empowerment initiatives in the slow-changing Cape wine industry, black investors in South African estates have shared ownership with other partners. While Europeans have also recently been establishing joint ventures in the region, this is the first time that an outsider from another African country has invested in a Cape wine estate.
Rwayitare, who plans to retire from the telecommunications industry soon, has no previous wine experience, but he will retain Mont Rochell's current winemaker, British-born Justin Hoy. In addition, De Villiers will remain with the estate as a consultant for 18 months. With his international contacts, Rwayitare says he is determined to develop the Mont Rochelle brand in export markets, including the United States.
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