The wine industry is capital intensive but with the right skills set and educational background, it can be as easy as any other industry to break into.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: A very warm welcome to the Small Business Conversations podcast. I am your host, Melitta Ngalonkulu. I would say that it’s wine o’clock but unfortunately it’s not. However, we are talking everything related to the wine industry in this episode. And in this week’s podcast we speak to one of the youngest black female winemakers in the country. Siwela Masoga is the founder of Siwela Wines, and she’s one of the youngest women under the [Cap Classique Producers Association or CCPA].
Siwela, thank you so much for joining us this week.
SIWELA MASOGA: Thank you so much for the invitation.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: So you are young, you are black and you are female. How did you become a winemaker?
SIWELA MASOGA: Back then, when I was studying, I studied biotechnology. I’m a biotechnologist by profession and turned that into a winemaking career. During my studies back in 2010, I started majoring in fermentation and microbiology. For many of us, we do understand that those are the two fundamentals of wine-making. That’s the science behind wine-making. I think for many of us that’s for the first time ever having to get a better understanding of what really goes into making a bottle of wine. I found that very fascinating. I believe that that was more of the career setting from my side because I come from a small village in Limpopo and never really had to ask myself what wine-making is – if there is even such an industry.
So I think the fact that I was really curious and I was interested to learn more about the industry is what brought me to where I am today.
Fortunately – and I always use the word “fortunately” because it doesn’t always happen that as a young black female you get so much opportunity as was presented to me to start a career in wine – it can be really difficult. Firstly, you have to be in the Western Cape. So, fortunately, when I finished with my studies, I received an internship with one of the wineries in Stellenbosch, and that’s how I began to build my career within the wine space.
Even after that, I was fortunate once again to continue with my wine career, working for one of the biggest wine and spirits producers and distributors in the whole world, I believe. And, four years later, I decided that I wanted to build a name for myself with the experiences that I’d gained, the skills that I’d developed throughout the years. I wanted to build a name for myself, and I just wanted to say to other young people out there – particularly with the background that I have – this is possible for anyone who is determined to make it work.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Is it an easy industry to get into?
SIWELA MASOGA: I wouldn’t say that it’s easy, but I think that if you have the right skills, if you’ve got the right educational background, it can be as easy as any other industry – but you just need to have the right skills. You need to have the right qualifications for that. And, as I said, you practically have to be in the Western Cape to get an opportunity to enter into the industry. So yes, it’s not easy, but it’s possible.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: What are the requirements you will need?
SIWELA MASOGA: It takes about three months to have complete fermentation. So it takes about just three months to have a complete alcoholic beverage, like a bottle of wine – not really a bottle of wine, but to complete that alcoholic fermentation. And in about a year, you should be done with the entire bottling and labelling of that particular bottle of wine or that specific vintage. I would say that it would take you about a year to get it into the retail space or to the consumer.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: How long did it take you to produce your first bottles of wine and get them on retail shelves?
SIWELA MASOGA: Obviously there are different models that are being used within the wine industry space or the wine business in general. So it depends on what your capacity is and what resources you have. Not every producer is involved in every other value chain of the business. But there are other standards that are required in terms of the quality and manufacturing standards that one needs to adhere to. Even after that, a liquor licence is required for you to start trading, obviously. And other legal requirements would be the likes of your trademark registration – and that is literally just to protect a brand. So you need to protect the brand as well, so basically the liquor licence, manufacturing licences and the trademark registration of the trademark.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: What are the most persistent challenges you experienced?
SIWELA MASOGA: The most persistent challenge within the wine industry is access to the market. I think any other person who is yet to enter into the industry – or even producers that have been in the industry for a very long time – face the same challenge of access to the market. That is because South Africans are not really wine consumers. Rather, we consume other beverages such as beer, gin, spirits in general, and ciders.
When you look at wine, there’s only a certain population of South Africans that really consume wine. And when you look at just how much wine we produce as a country, it’s a lot. So getting the product after production into the market, getting it to sell is really difficult; not only that but also realising that, you know, there are so many brands that come into the market each and every day.
So there’s a lot of competition within the market, where there are a small number of people who are going to be consuming that particular wine or that particular bottle of wine.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Wow. Siwela, I must say that I am intrigued and we learn something new every single day because I’ve always been under the assumption that South Africans love their wine and gin – but seemingly not.
SIWELA MASOGA: When I look at how much wine we actually produce, I think we should be drinking more wine.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: The Covid-19 lockdown affected most businesses in the liquor industry. How badly was yours impacted?
SIWELA MASOGA: It was bad and it was good at the same time. The bad part of this whole lockdown and Covid-19, and the ban on [the sale of] liquor, for a small business it can really actually shut down the entire business. But fortunately for us, I would say that we were still able to continue with our day-to-day operations, besides the production of the wines.
Because our business operates 100% online, and 90% of our sales are generated online, that means that, unlike the other bigger manufacturers that rely on people coming in and tasting and buying a bottle of wine, we don’t have that. And we don’t focus [on that]. That’s not where our revenue comes from.
We continue to market our products online as we did even before. And the nice thing about it was that, as people were now online at home, and didn’t have anything to do, didn’t have alcohol to drink, they missed their alcohol. And when we offered the whole idea of “buy now, get your wines” once the lockdown was lifted, it really worked to our advantage.
That also increased the number of bottles we’ve sold so far – even better than before. Even after that we still continue to see a lot of people buying our wines online, because the whole concept of e-commerce or buying online was now forced onto the consumer.
So now everybody is comfortable with actually buying online. I think that’s what worked for us, even though for those couple of months we couldn’t make any sales.
But the fact that we were able to say, listen, you can buy your wine now and, as soon as lockdown is lifted, we will deliver the wine for you. I think that saved us a lot.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Siwela, you are one of the youngest women under the [CCPA]. How difficult was it to get in?
SIWELA MASOGA: Before I can answer that I would say that it’s quite an honour. I feel very privileged to be the youngest. Thank you so much. But, as I said, it takes the right skills.
If your product is good, nothing will stop you from achieving anything.
I think with me all the relationships that I’ve built within the industry, and the support from the industry stakeholders, have really played a great role in the success of the Siwela brand.
It is difficult if you don’t know how to start, if you don’t know where to go, and if you don’t have the right skills and expertise, I always say.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Siwela, what does the future look like for Siwela Wines?
SIWELA MASOGA: I’m so excited about the future because I think from here on we should be expecting to see double the growth from Siwela Wines. I’m now increasing my team in order for us to be able to efficiently provide the service that our consumers deserve. And I think that alone is something that is going to help us in our growth. I don’t know if you know, but we have now added informal wine courses to our business. That’s another thing that we’re doing, other than selling the wine. So now we can teach you about wine. The courses are really fun.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Interesting. So you do them virtually?
SIWELA MASOGA: Yes, I do them virtually thanks to Covid-19. So far it’s been a great success. I’ve taught a number of people online, and I think it’s something that I also enjoy doing because, more than anything, my mission is also sharing the knowledge that I have about wine. I think people do enjoy it, and the best part of it all is that it’s very informal. And you don’t have to have any other certificate or any other education for you to learn about wine. And I think a lot of people are now open to learning about wine, which is really great.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Siwela, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you join us this week. That was the founder of Siwela Wines, with Siwela Masoga giving us pointers on how to break into the wine industry.
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