With the South African economy still in a tight spot, perhaps the best opportunity lies in being a disruptive winemaker with a vengeance for a devious malevolence. This might sound cruel, but just for a moment, put yourselves in the “shoes” of a wine grape about to be crushed for pure pleasure over the next few months.
These days, opportunities seem to abound for black winemakers in particular, and I have met some amazing people whilst attended an honours’ level wine course at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town last year.
The shutters on my eyes suddenly became palpable, and I felt immense excitement at fulfilling my dream of one day becoming the owner of a winery – a black-owned winery, I’ll have you know. I’m reminded of the words of Ntsiki Biyela, the first black female winemaker and owner of Aslina Wines, who said, “When I was working for or collaborating with other brands, I always knew that at some point I’m going to have to start my own company. I also knew that I was going to name it after my late grandmother, Aslina, in her honour.”
Which brings us to the current state of our economy… Would it be wise to start something that can be as volatile as a chameleon on a rainbow? It really seems that perhaps the best opportunity is to be a disruptive winemaker with a vengeance for a devious malevolence. There, I said it again…
Who or what do you stand for?
Statistically speaking, there are more winemakers than producers, which makes me think about what Ross Sleet, the Managing Director of Rascallion Wines, said about the 600 000 wine brands in the world, and which questions we should be asking.
Who or what do you stand for? This is a question any business person should reflect on as a constant reminder of the ever-changing environment to which the wine industry (nationally and abroad) is exposed to. This is, after all, my story and journey, and I would like you to be part of my exploration into the exciting world of what that kings and queens have used as a victory quencher.
My professional journey started in the banking sector, working for a local branch for five years only to realize a decade later that I chose the perfect career to end up in the wine industry. (Thank you, Big “G”!) Well, in the hospitality industry you also have a bank branch manager. Their role is not to manage someone else’s money, but that of food and beverage, which is why I still bank with them.
I have started from humble beginnings, learning and even working for free in some cases, just to get the necessary experience for certain roles.
Knowledge is infinite and never-ending. I am still very active at learning whatever I can.
Initially, I was only interested in the administration and hospitality side of the wine industry. But, as you undergo the 100 foot journey of passion, you exude the curiosity of just learning more about a small berry from infancy to adulthood. After numerous courses and studies, I now have a dream of being the owner and winemaker of the first black-owned winery in the Western Cape’s Langeberg region, where I grew up. Should it happen, it will also be a first for the district.
This dream is not as easy as it seems, especially if your parents were part of the working class and could barely afford to send you to good schools. Perseverance and lots of hard work are my vitamins each morning and, slowly but surely, I can almost touch my dream. This is all thanks to wine bodies such as VinPro, Graham Beck (who paid for my UCT fees), Esona Boutique Wine Estate (for their mentorship and commitment to creating employment), Rosendal Winery (for exposure to the national market), and, last but not least, the De Wetshof Estate for investing in me for many years and exposing me to the world of wine.
These are all industry leaders, and my journey has only just begun.
Inner-city urban winery
However, I still need to get to a place where some of my black winemakers are. This brings me to Mphumeleli Ndlangisa, the founder of Magna Carta Wines, an exciting black-owned winery in the inner city of Cape Town. The grapes for Magna Carta Wines are sourced in Franschhoek, but the wine itself is made in Woodstock, in the heart of Cape Town.
He started out as a garagiste, literally making wine in a friend’s garage in Stellenbosch whilst he was still doing his postgrad in statistics at varsity. Before he made wine, he was an eager wine lover and collector, frequently attending wine events and sparking up conversations with winemakers.
Ndlangisa’s urban winery is an attempt to bring natural wine culture into the city. Ndlangisa hopes that one day this urban winery will be a home for young winemakers who are pushing boundaries in how they approach winemaking, an incubator for the up-and-coming.
I consider myself a self-taught winemaker, not having had any formal training. The closest I’ve got was by making my top secret pineapple beer with hops. Mentors are so important, and luckily I have the legendary Danie and Johann de Wet from De Wetshof as the mentors for my vintage. Danie was a bit of a rebel in his younger days. No, really. In the 1980’s he smuggled numerous varietals into South Africa. He’s literally the guy who brought us the gift of Chardonnay.
This begs the question, what are you waiting for?
I know that I’m ready to chase my dream.