This paper considers the discourse and practice of 'Black Economic Empowerment'(BEE) in the South African wine industry. It argues that far from representing a decisive break with an inequitable past, BEE allows the South African wine 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 addressing the conditions faced by workers, and to an ameliorism that allows a small cohort of black entrepreneurs to become the preferred beneficiaries of 'transformation' in the wine industry. The new terrain is characterized by branding, advertising and image building on the one side: and by codes of conduct, a sectoral BEE charter, scorecards and auditing on the other. These allow the standardization, legitimation and ostensible deracialization of exploitative labour and social relations in the South African wine industry.