The (nat­u­ral) taste of suc­cess

Mphumi Nd­langisa, one of the few black wine­mak­ers in South Africa, is bring­ing nat­u­ral wine to con­sumers’ palates. And Magna Carta Wines’ unique bot­tles have in­deed found favour.

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY - By Jana Jacobs

mphumi Nd­langisa used to be an in­vest­ment banker with Bar­clays Cap­i­tal. That was un­til he founded Magna Carta Wines. Since 2014, this en­tre­pre­neur has cul­ti­vated a cul­ture of nat­u­ral wine­mak­ing, pro­duc­ing wines with­out us­ing chem­i­cals or ad­di­tives, and with min­i­mum tech­no­log­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion. He plans to bring his own ap­pre­ci­a­tion and pas­sion for wine to South Africa and the rest of the con­ti­nent – a vi­sion has been work­ing hard to­wards over the past three years.

Why did you de­cide to go from in­vest­ment bank­ing to wine­mak­ing?

It was a nat­u­ral tran­si­tion, I’ve al­ways loved tast­ing wine – even as a stu­dent I was al­ways try­ing out new wines in or­der to train my palate. The only lim­it­ing fac­tor was be­ing on a stu­dent bud­get.

I left bank­ing be­cause I wanted to build some­thing for my­self out­side of the im­pos­ing brand and so­cial sta­tus of be­ing an in­vest­ment banker.

I also wanted to re­turn to farm­ing and na­ture, which are fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings to me as both my par­ents, due to their places of birth, ex­posed us to the beau­ti­ful ru­rals of Bul­wer, Bergville and Uvongo. My fa­ther in his younger years was a pas­sion­ate farmer. I think those genes may have car­ried through.

How dif­fi­cult was it to make the tran­si­tion?

Ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. It’s not only a par­a­digm shift, but a com­plete life­style change. Most dif­fi­cult was hav­ing to sur­vive with less. I soon came to un­der­stand that the wine busi­ness is not for quick wealth cre­ation; it’s a legacy busi­ness. Progress takes time. In bank­ing I was be­ing paid enough straight out of univer­sity to af­ford all the niceties ap­peal­ing to some­one in their early 20s.

The thought of be­ing de­pen­dent on wine sales and peo­ple lik­ing your wine is quite scary. Wine drinkers are quite fickle due to the vast amounts of wine on of­fer glob­ally.

Magna Carta Wines spe­cialises in nat­u­ral wine­mak­ing. Why?

The glob­al­i­sa­tion of wine­mak­ing meth­ods and the ris­ing in­flu­ence of wine ratings from pow­er­ful wine crit­ics have led to the flavour pro­files of wines be­com­ing stan­dard­ised and quite bor­ing. Es­sen­tially, if you were to taste a Syrah pro­duced in Napa Val­ley and one pro­duced in Stel­len­bosch, there would be glar­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties. This shouldn’t be the case as the ter­roirs of the US and South Africa are vastly dif­fer­ent, de­spite both be­ing New World pro­duc­ers of wine.

Mak­ing nat­u­ral wine means re­turn­ing to na­ture and the true ex­pres­sion of ter­roir. The vine­yard and the con­di­tions where the grapes are grown should be the only de­ter­mi­nant of a wine’s taste. It should never be about mak­ing wines that vie for the ap­proval of wine crit­ics, who of­ten give skewed ratings due to their pref­er­en­tial tastes. Through nat­u­ral wine­mak­ing we not only im­prove the pu­rity and qual­ity of wines that con­sumers drink, but also ed­u­cate con­sumers that na­ture is the best pro­ducer of wine. This method makes our wine very dif­fer­ent to what is cur­rently avail­able on su­per­mar­ket shelves.

When did you of­fi­cially start op­er­at­ing?

The com­pany was reg­is­tered in 2014, but prior to that we had al­ready been ex­per­i­ment­ing with small-batch nat­u­ral fer­ments, garag­iste-style. A lot of thanks must go out to Pi­eter de Waal of Her­mit on the Hill wines for spark­ing this in­ter­est in garag­iste-style nat­u­ral wines and for the knowl­edge he im­parted.

How did you get start-up fund­ing?

Un­til now Magna Carta has been funded from my sav­ings. I didn’t save millions, but I have been for­tu­nate to have net­worked well, and in so do­ing haven’t had to ob­tain ma­chin­ery to make wine. As our wines have been sell­ing out quite rapidly in the past two years, I am in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion to meet de­mand – so I’m cur­rently look­ing for in­vestors to grow the busi­ness with.

How did you make the first sale?

At the first of­fi­cial bot­tling as Magna Carta Wines in 2014, where friends I had in­vited to share the mo­ment pre-or­dered cases and also spread the word. Two months later we launched the wines at 99 Loop Art Gallery in Cape Town. We sold over 200 bot­tles on the day and re­ceived a Sun­day Times fea­ture that same week­end. The wine that blew peo­ple away was our El­gin Pinot Noir.

How many bot­tles do you pro­duce an­nu­ally?

We pro­duce 12 000 bot­tles across our

Magna Carta is based in Stel­len­bosch and spe­cialises in the pro­duc­tion of nat­u­ral wine.

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