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Meet the D.C. Duo Directing South African Wines Into U.S. Glasses

Sustainability is built into the growing brand

Lubanzi co-founder Charles Brain.
Photo: Lubanzi
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

While studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa in 2014, friends Charles Brain and Walker Brown fell in love with the tapestry, culture, and most importantly, its vino — an obsession that’s now led to booming wine sales across the DMV.

Following their graduation stateside in spring 2016, they decided to start a wine company, called Cape Venture Wine Co. and create their first label, dubbed Lubanzi (named after a wandering dog who led the two founders on a six-day, 100-mile hike across a remote part of South Africa).

The product is made in collaboration with two South African winemakers: Trizanne Barnard, an innovative female winemaker and Bruce Jack, a longtime South African wine legend.

“[Trizanne] is a wicked good surfer and one of the cooler people you will meet,” says Brown. “[Bruce] is an industry icon who’s been an amazing mentor.”

The now-stateside product — a 100-percent chenin blanc and a Rhone-style red blend — retails for $14.99 a bottle and can be purchased at the brand-new Cordial wine shop in the Wharf, as well as at other local stores and restaurants.

Sales of South African-sourced wine were up 13 percent in the first half of the year, but despite the surge of popularity, some farmers are having a hard time getting their wines into domestic mouths.

“We met this amazing community of people but felt they had little opportunity in the U.S. We thought we could be an engine for changing that,” says Brown, who calls the Bloomingdale neighborhood home.

The partners’ “locally run, globally minded” mantra has paid off. Sales officially launched in April 2017, and Lubanzi’s two imported wines are now in 15 markets.

“To go from zero to 15 states in six months feels like a real victory,” says Brown.

Their target demographic is millennials — a group that guzzled around 159.6 million cases of wine last year. That’s more than any other generation, Fortune noted.

Their goal is to connect consumers with those cultivating the grapes 10,000 miles away. Half of its profits go back to the Pebbles Project, an NGO that works with the low-income families who live and work on South Africa's wine farms.

The wine farm they’re working with is newly certified as Fair For Life, a stamp that falls under the same body as Fair Trade and enforces more stringent standards for labor practices.

“We are trying to build a forward-thinking, innovative, and socially responsible wine company,” says Brown.