Posted: Apr 26, 2019
From Kansas City, Missouri, and from near Roanoke, Virginia in the U.S., two Americans in their twenties met in Cape Town while exploring South Africa. They spent almost a week hiking 100 miles across the ‘wild coast’ of the country, beginning at Bulungula lodge west of Folokwe and heading northeast through Hole in The Wall, Coffee Bay, Mdumbi and Hiluleka. When they began their trek a dog named ‘Lubanzi’ by locals decided to follow, and stayed as their companion until they slept their final evening. The dog then vanished as mysteriously as it first appeared.
Yet Lubanzi, friend and fellow explorer, was not forgotten.
The pair, Charles Brain and Walker Brown, then formed Cape Venture Wine Company in 2016 in collaboration with independent South African winemakers Trizanne Barnard and Bruce Jack. Their Lubanzi wines (‘From where the mountain meets the ocean…’) include two new canned wines—one a Chenin Blanc and the other a red blend (Syrah/Shiraz dominant, with Cinsault, Mourvedre and Grenache), as well as bottled wines. They now sell in 26 U.S. states and Canada, and will soon begin selling in South Africa. They are based in Washington DC, and the surrounding region—including Virginia and Maryland—is also a primary market.
Brain recently told of me about their venture.
We started alongside two independent winemakers who live in Cape Town. We’re sourcing all grapes from one group and using their facilities to produce the wine. The two of us didn’t exactly have the capital to build our own winery when we created Lubanzi, but wanted to be sure the wines were consistent, overseen by experienced winemakers and sourced from their same vineyards to ensure continuity in style and quality. We created Lubanzi almost entirely because we love South Africa, were hungry for adventure and thought South African wine deserved a better seat at the table than it was getting. People connect with the story and appreciate the idea was done out of personal passion.
The blending and bottling take place at Swartland Cellar, located outside Malmesbury in South Africa. The canning, due to the need for specialized cans and industrial equipment, is done in the U.S.
Brain talked of the challenges.
We function both as a virtual South African winery and as a U.S. importer. It’s an interesting model. We do have a direct to consumer channel, and have all the licensing, but that’s a smaller part of the business. We produced two varietals at about $17 a bottle and learned early that direct to consumer works best when you’re able to offer real variety consistently. For us the main focus is with our distributors.
By Tom Mullen Contributor
April 26, 2019
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