"Jabulani is in the house!" Joshua Wesson, the waggish, gum-chewing impresario behind the Best Cellars value-oriented wine stores, is having friends over for a meal, and the guest of honor has just arrived, wearing a friendship lapel pin bearing the South African and United States flags. "The man with the goods!" Wesson crows.
From a satchel, Jabulani Ntshangase pulls forth several newly released bottles from his family-owned Thabani Wine Company, which he is promoting on a six-week visit to the States. They join a cluster of other bottles on the granite-topped kitchen island in this Brooklyn loft.
Ntshangase (pronounced chon-GOSS-ay) is one of South Africa's—indeed, one of the world's—few black wine producers. Raised in Soweto, outside Johannesburg, he was a teetotaler studying business in New York on a United Nations scholarship in the early 1980s when he happened into part-time work as a stock clerk at the venerable Upper West Side wine shop Acker Merrall & Condit. The business fascinated him, and after the U.S. trade embargo was lifted, in 1991, he went to work for an importer bringing South African wines into the States. Eventually he returned to South Africa and became the sole black independent-wine-company CEO there. Lately he's been active in setting up a program at Stellenbosch University to bring young black Africans into the industry. He faces the challenge of cultivating a taste for his wines among black South Africans, who traditionally favor beer. "We want to be role models," he says, "both breaking ground and making wine accessible."