Meet South Africa's First Black Female Winemaker
Finally, in 1993, she was accepted. “In my first year, there was one other Black student, a second year male. But there were five women and that was the surprise. Until then, the school would only admit one female student per year.” She was the only Black among the five.
After graduation, Carmen’s maiden vintage was the 1999 at Tukulu where she made an impressive Pinotage. “I still have a soft spot for that grape, South Africa’s own,” she said.
To extend her knowledge, she went to California, to Simi Winery in Sonoma, and found it “a fantastic experience. I was to work in the harvest, but I was privileged to work also in all sections of wine making. So I experienced much more than most cellar interns do. I also learned how hard women can work.” And, she added, “I took home a major message: how important it was at harvest time to taste the grapes constantly to be sure not to miss the optimum picking date for each variety.”
Carmen also spent time in France’s Rhône Valley. “That was a good old-world experience. In the Rhône, I learned how to work with natural ferments, and I learned that wood must be used to complement a wine, not overpower it.”
Amani, which means peace in Swahili, is located on the slopes of a high hill west of Stellenbosch. It was bought in 2002 by Jim Atkinson, an American, who then turned over its operation to his daughter Lynde and her husband Rusty Myers. From the beginning, they set their standard. They were to be a small, high quality, low volume winery. Carmen was a perfect fit.
After being at Amani through eight harvests, Carmen particularly relishes having “the opportunity to experiment with small batch wine making, to be able to go through and pick the same block of grapes as many as four times because soil difference, growth difference and ripeness levels vary. And I appreciate seeing how irrigation styles can influence a vine’s reaction and how it brings another dimension to the fruit.”
At Amani, Carmen makes a range of wines, among them, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinotage, Cabernet Franc and a wine named I Am One, a blend of Bordeaux grapes plus a bit of Shiraz.
Currently available in the U.S. is her rich red wine called uQamata, a Bordeaux blend imported by Cognac One and sold under the Xavier Flouret label.
Carmen has also launched wines under her own label which will be marketed through Naked Wines. “I rent space at two cellars, and my two first wines, Chenin Blanc and Shiraz, will be in the U.S. this October. My 2014 Chardonnay will be available in early 2015.”
The label? “From a painting by my 10 year old daughter Caitlin–my younger daughter Victoria is eight–that she made when she was six. She wanted to paint a tiger, but there’s a crow, a dog, a clown and yes, the tail of a tiger. I thought it was a perfect example of how people experience wine–each one is different for each person.”