In November 2003, the South African wine industry held its first consultative conference on ‘Black Empowerment’. The press reported to the world that the industry was at last entering ‘the new South Africa’. For years, it had been a byword for white power and black exploitation – famous for the grim working conditions, poor wages, degrading institutions, and authoritarian, racist white farmers. In contrast to the past, when talk of change was the prerogative of white and male industry insiders, a wide range of industry stakeholders were invited, and the conference itself was dominated by new black faces and voices. A Wine Industry Plan was presented, in which ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ (BEE) figured as a central element. In this paper, we argue that far from representing a decisive break with the past, BEE in the wine industry is in important ways continuous with it. BEE allows the industry to avoid potentially more uncomfortable options to redress current and past race-based imbalances – such as land redistribution, import boycotts, and better working conditions for grape pickers. An essentialist racial discourse, pivoting on ahistorical and dislocated notions of ‘blackness’ has been used to displace the transformation agenda away from challenging the impoverishment of the many to ensuring the enrichment of the few. What commitment to farm worker interests remains is couched solidly in self-amelioration discourse (education, training, combating alcoholism) rather than on farm worker organization and the nature of the labour regime on wine farms. At the same time, marketing and codification technologies are deployed to move the terrain of restructuring from a political realm to a managerial one – where a small cohort of black entrepreneurs can operate with new legitimacy. This terrain is characterized by branding, advertising, image building on the one side; and by codes of conduct, a sectoral BEE charter, scorecards, and auditing on the other. In a way, these tools are allowing both the standardization and the de-racialisation of labour and social relations in the wine industry, an industry characterized by slavery and exploitation in the past, and by more or less benign paternalism in more recent history.