Improving The Lives Of Workers In South Africa.

Meet Charles Brain, Co-Founder of Cape Venture Wine Co.

I first pitched the idea for a socially responsible South African wine company about a year ago to a group of my classmates at Vanderbilt University, where I was a senior at the time. I had come up with the business while I was an exchange student in South Africa the previous year, thinking the concept would fill a good niche for the course, but probably nothing more. So, when I won the competition a few months later and had a panel of local Nashville businessman telling me they thought this could really work, it actually started to sink in that my plan had more potential than I’d originally bargained for.

I was in high school when companies like TOM’s shoes were really starting to take off and people were starting to popularize the idea of businesses and (more specifically) consumer products being tied to core social missions. So in a way, I feel like I’ve grown up in the shadow of this movement, with its importance always floating somewhere at the back of my mind. But my personal interest in the subject is really the result of my upbringing. My father is a businessman and entrepreneur to the bone, and my mother has always been a very giving person. She instilled in me the belief that life isn’t about how much you have or who knows your name, but rather about just doing good and doing that as often as you can. From them, I inherited two passions: I wanted to do something that served others, and I wanted to become a successful entrepreneur. Luckily for me, social business offers a way to tie my two dreams together. Cape Venture is the product of that union.

Charles Brain, Co-Founder, Cape Venture Wine Co.

At the center of my original idea for this business was the reality that South Africa is one of the world’s largest wine producers already. Not only do they have quantity in spades, but a lot of the wine is of pretty incredible quality to boot. Yet, most of the consumers in the Western world are completely unaware of its existence. I had all the numbers to prove these things, and when I put them together it seemed like there was an obvious opportunity to start an end-to-end, US-based South African wine company.

Being end-to-end was important to me, because the vast majority of wine companies work on just one part of the process. They are producers, or importers, or distributors, or marketing companies- and what that means is that they all just pick up and pass along a product, rather than having a hand in the bigger picture. I want to do things differently, with a company that not only works with some of South Africa’s best winemakers to create the wine, but also manages the importation and marketing processes. I want to ensure that we can create amazing wine, and then actively market it in such a way that consumers in America have the chance to understand the full, beautiful picture of this underappreciated region.

The change I’m hoping to inspire is to utilize the influence of American consumers to improve the lives of working-class South Africans. If the US wine market begins to realize the quality of South African wines, whether that’s in our brand or others, the price will reflect that. If this happens in tandem with a heightened sense of responsibility in the industry (which we also aim to instill), there will be an opportunity to get more of the money in the value chain back to the workers at the core of the product.

As it stands currently, despite consistent raises of the minimum wage by the SA government and active participation and help coming from the farm owners and private sector, many laborers are still dealing with a number of complex health and education issues. I believe that the missing piece is on the importer and consumer side of things, which is why we set out to give 50% of profits back to the community through our partner NGO, The Pebbles Project. As we grow, we want to continue finding new ways to empower the people who make our wine possible, and influence other companies in our industry to follow suit.

My co-founder, Walker, and I named our wine brand Lubanzi, after a wandering dog who found us while we were on a backpacking expedition in South Africa and stuck with us for all 6 days and 100 miles before disappearing in the middle of the night before our final morning. To us, he represented the belief that when adventure finds you, the best thing you can do is just roll with it and let it take you where it will. We strive to live by that, and we’re always trying to find new ways to do something and open new doors. We even found COMMON just by stumbling around in the dark. We were researching some US marketing companies, and found a guy that seemed promising, so we called him up from the other side of the world on a whim. He led us to another person, and that person to another person, and soon as you know it we were talking to the people at COMMON- and it’s been a great experience since. Trying to live like Lubanzi has led us through a whirlwind of crazy, awesome events and relationships, and we wouldn’t change it for the world.

We are still in the early phases of navigating and running a social business (or any business for that matter), so we’re really hoping to observe, learn from, and emulate people in the COMMON community who have already been where we are now. Having all of these pseudo-mentors has already been immensely helpful in terms of helping us figure out how to “do shit that matters,” so we’re looking forward to what comes next!

Visit Cape Venture Wine Co.:

Email Walker:

Follow Walker on Twitter: @lubanziwines

Walker on Instagram @lubanziwines


COMMON is a creative accelerator and community for social businesses and projects. We help entrepreneurs build, launch, and promote products and ideas that take care of the planet and all the creatures on it.


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