When Selena Cuffe heard that South Africa’s multi-billion dollar wine industry had less than 2-percent black ownership, she saw an opportunity.
On a serendipitous trip to South Africa in 2005, the U.S. citizen attended the Soweto Wine Festival where she learned that blacks were vastly underrepresented within the country’s wine industry.
South Africa is the ninth-largest wine producing country in the world based on data compiled and reported by the Wine Institute.
While at the wine festival, Selena met the Brutus sisters, vintners from the Seven Sisters winery, a black-owned winery in South Africa. The Brutus family lived in a small fishing village on the western coast of South Africa until they were forced to leave their land under apartheid law. The sisters reunited 20 years later to create fine wines, but told Selena they were having difficulty exporting to the U.S.
Wanting to help the vintners, Selena was inspired to create Heritage Link Brands, a company that imports a variety of wines from South Africa into the U.S.
Selena, president and CEO of Heritage Link Brands, co-founded the business in 2005 with her husband, Khary, hoping to transform select African products into iconic, global brands.
“We began partnering with South African producers who until 1994 were formerly prohibited from ownership or management within the wine industry due to apartheid,” said Selena. “We are honored to collaborate with our producers – including the exciting House of Mandela brand, owned and operated by Nelson Mandela’s family.”
And the owners exude a great sense of pride in the values the company maintains.
“Our ability to delight people with the best wine from Africa is as important as our commitment to generate capital and opportunities with the people connected to this great continent,” said Selena.
In 2006, Selena brought M’hudi – the first black-owned family vineyard in post-apartheid South Africa – into the company’s wine portfolio.
Rotimi Akinnuoye is an owner of Bed-Vyne Wine, a boutique wine shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., that has been doing business with Heritage Link Brands for nearly two years. Customers were coming in and asking about specific South African wines, Akinnuoye said.
“We tracked down Selena through her website,” Akinnuoye said. “We’ve worked with her ever since. She is extremely professional, hands on, always willing to help us and be involved in anything we do. It’s been a great partnership and we hope to continue the partnership for a long time.”
Selena plans to bring Nelson Mandela’s daughter and granddaughter, the owners of House of Mandela, to Bed-Vyne Wine for a signing and tasting on Oct. 18 – the company’s two year anniversary.
“Selena has been kind enough to join us at several tastings in our wine shop and she recently was the featured guest in the VIP section of Tap & Cork’s Brooklyn Beer and Wine Festival,” Akinnuoye said.
Richard Fadeley, a wine connoisseur and consumer of South African wines, summed up their appeal this way: “Honest wines at honest prices,” he said at www.wineloverspage.com
Today Heritage Link Brands is the largest marketer of black-produced wine from Africa in the U.S. Serving a loyal customer base of household names from American Airlines to Whole Foods, its wines are sold in 41 states, South Africa, Nigeria, and worldwide aboard two airlines, according to the company’s website.