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.
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.