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#wineforgood: A little mentorship goes a long way - Siwela Wines and Denzel Swarts


10 April 2019  -  wine.co.za - Trudie Webb (Editor)

Siwela Wines is a South African black female owned brand producing premium quality wine and a symbol of transformation in the South African wine industry. Owner, Siwela Masoga, came to the Western Cape from Limpopo showing courage in pursuing her dreams of being part of the wine world. With some help from within the industry, she is now living her dream.

Siwela came to the Western Cape with a clear mission in mind. Her passion has always been wine, with dreams of owning her own winery. Following her completion of a National Diploma in Biotechnology, majoring in Fermentation and Microbiology, she started her journey in the industry as an intern at Waterstone Wines in Stellenbosch. 

The idea of owning a winery began to fade away as she realized just how much capital was needed to run such a business. 

What separates those who succeed from those who fail is courage to persevere. Siwela Wines' slogan is aptly "Taste of Courage". Refusing to give up, she submerged herself in deepening her knowledge of wine, reading up on it daily, writing and talking about the subject at every opportunity. She enrolled herself at Cape Wine Academy and sharpened her skills. 

Her personal efforts were met with a little push in the form of a mentor. Crossing paths with Andrew de Vries, Managing Director at Koelenhof, provided the support needed to start her own wine label. "You are going to make it, a lot of people go into it for business, and when it doesn't work they quit, but you are passionate about it and that is what is going to make you successful in the industry", these words from Andrew have been a big motivation. 

Siwela believes that making wine is making a difference in South Africa. Her aim with her brand is to inspire young South Africans. Positioning herself as part of the black market, she understands how black South Africans were overlooked by wineries, often feeling alienated with the brands and labels available on the shelves. Her hope is to create a brand that speaks to the consumer and tap in to the major opportunities of engaging with black consumers. Her wine range includes a dry red and a sweet red, with plans of expanding as she finds her fit in the market. Ways of scaring off the black consumer in her opinion is highlighting all the snobbish traditions associating with wine drinking, such as listing fancy Western foods to pair the wines with. She wants to engage by giving pairing ideas with African cuisine and braai meat. The bigger picture for her is growing the market locally and boosting the image of South African wine brands. 

 

Denzel Swarts

As a small boy growing up on Simonsig Wine Estate in Stellenbosch Denzel was restless. He wanted to see what was out there, he wanted to learn, he wanted to be different and make a difference.

His father was a foreman on the farm and his mother a domestic worker, so there was no money for agricultural college or tertiary education. But through sport, Denzel took part in events around the province and slowly began to realise that there was a big world out there with exciting opportunities. 

After matriculating, he secured a job in the Simonsig Tasting Room where he was mentored by the inimitable Maureen Basson, Tasting Manager at Simonsig for over 30 years. “She taught me about customer service and enabled me to talk about wine with confidence,” says Denzel, who then spent 2 years in the company’s export department. “Although I learnt a lot,” he continues, “I was frustrated by the lack of progress for coloured people like myself.”

So he left and joined Youth Unlimited, an international Catholic organisation involved in youth development. He became a mentor at the camps run by the Edmund Rice NGO helping vulnerable tweens and teens develop life skills and build confidence, eventually becoming an Assistant Co-ordinator. This resulted in a trip to Australia in 2008 where a million young adults from around the world gathered to exchange ideas and learn from one another.

“But Maureen always kept tabs on me,” he grins, which resulted in him re-joining the Simonsig Tasting Room in 2012. In 2013 Denzel attended a 2 year, part-time management training course at WineTech. “Initially there was no management job waiting for me at Simonsig, but when I finished my training it was decided that Maureen would move into Tourist Development and that I would take over her job managing the Tasting Room though still being mentored by her.”

After 3 years Denzel is still loving his job. With 6 staff, 6 casuals and about 25 000 visitors annually, he has to ensure they stay on top of their game. “I have a good spread of men, women, white, coloured and black,” he explains. “We complement each other and learn from each other, but we can also give the customers the service they require.” 

“I select my staff on their value system, not on their skills. Skills can be learned, but values will determine whether you will be able to work as a team and meet the customer’s needs.”

Denzel is still involved in Youth Unlimited. He has taken his mentorship a step further by creating the Sonofthesoil Leadership Foundation where he mentors 4 teenagers from Mitchells Plain, a township near Cape Town. His intention is to help them reach their true potential, his short-term goal being to get them to the next Youth Unlimited meeting in Panama in 2019. Denzel has been to 4 such meetings so far, his first in Australia, and then also Spain, Brazil and Poland, so he is keen to share this life-changing experience with them.

Denzel is determined to make an impact on the wine industry. He is a director on the board of the VinPro Foundation and also a mentor at the Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA). He feels that while there are more opportunities than when he started out, especially in training, these people are not moving up the ladder as fast as he would like. But instead of being critical, Denzel has jumped in boots and all, determined to make that difference and keep the momentum of change.

 

MORE ON #WINEFORGOOD

There are plenty of good news stories about upliftment and transformation in the South African Wine Industry. This #wineforgood website, launched by wine.co.za in June 2016, hosts all the positive stories from the winelands, of which there are plenty. wine.co.za has made April a focus for #wineforgood stories, being Freedom Month, as South Africa celebrates 25 years of democracy.
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