Meet Siwela Masoga, one of the youngest wine makers in South Africa
Siwela Masoga, founder and the CEO of Siwela Wines South Africa – EXCLUSIVE
Siwela Masoga, founder of Siwela Wines South Africa
EXCLUSIVE – With a tag line of ‘The Lady Born to Inspire’, the wine brand of Siwela Masoga is setting up new milestones in the South African wine industry. Born in a small village in Limpopo, South Africa, Siwela Masoga held high her passion for winemaking since her school days. She was recently declared the Youngest Entrepreneur at The South Africa and Cameroon Trade and Investment Seminar in Douala, Cameroon.
While speaking in an exclusive to Star Magazine Africa‘s Lifestyle writer Maitri, she revealed the secrets of Siwela Wines and her battles to survive in a white and male-dominated South African wine industry. She also shared her endeavors to take the brand on an international platform and her plans to set up a wine academy to empower the young generations of Africa in wine industry.
From a Limpopo girl to Siwela Masoga the brand, how was the journey?
After completing my matric in Limpopo, I left to pursue my studies in Cape Town, from a science student to varsity, it was no doubt that my future and career would be within the science stream. I completed my Diploma at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology where I attained the qualification in biotechnology and majored in fermentation. This is where my discovery and interest in wine began. Fermentation is basically the study in science on winemaking and anything involving micro-organisms to make products. During this time, I found the process of winemaking more than interesting, considering as it was the beginning of knowledge and understanding in winemaking. Like many others, I never imagined what goes into making wine. Fermentation involves the understanding of kinetics in winemaking as well as control measures in production. I thought maybe one day I will own my own wine, I thought. This is my long-term goal.
I began to find more interest in the subject of wine, my biggest question at this point was whether or not I can grow grapes to produce wine in Limpopo
Tell us about your early days of ‘wine education.
Following my completion in biotechnology, I was fortunate to land an internship at one of the wineries in Stellenbosch where I was exposed to the vineyard practices, cellar processing, packaging and bottling of wine. I, therefore, realized my extreme level of passion in the field and wanted to equip myself as much as possible. I always thought, one day I will put the skills to a great course. I, therefore, landed a permanent position in one of the biggest wines and spirit producers in the world, focusing on the quality assurance and approval of wine and spirits from primary to secondary production (Bottling).
At this point, my skills and knowledge on wine as a beverage and winemaking began to broaden as I spent 6 years in the wine industry. I also worked casually with various wine farms as a wine advisor to understand the customer’s perspective and expectations on wine. I dealt with different wine consumers on a daily and which was a great experience and exercise for me. I didn’t want to just know how to make wine, asses the quality but I also wanted to get used to talking and selling wine.
I have also completed various winemaking and wine courses to add to my qualifications and to understand wine much better. Understanding the capital and extensive pressure that the industry is under, my focus was on producing a product for the local market. Even though having my own cellar and farm dream was far-fetched, I managed to subcontract a cellar in Stellenbosch with the help of the farm as part of an incubation program where not only do I gain access to the facilities to make and store my wine but also receive a great amount of mentorship.
Deciding on which grapes and style of wine to produce was an easy process for me due to my extensive knowledge and experience in wine. My focus has always been about producing great quality wine, I have learned through my winemaking studies that good wine comes from good grapes, and this is where I cannot afford to compromise. My wine is made from grapes harvested at selected wine farms in Stellenbosch based on the highest quality spectrum.
How did you get the idea of Siwela Wines? Was it in your mind from day one at your school?
Deciding on what branding to choose and the name for my wine was the challenging part, initially, I wanted my brand to fit into the market. I was considering following trends using English names etc. Luckily for me, It cost me R3000 (US$200 )for the trademark attorney to search for availability of the trademark/name within the wine and spirit section. After the fourth attempt, I began to realize just how expensive the whole process is becoming. I, therefore, decided to think outside the box ad bring it closer to home.
I began to fall in love with the idea to create and establish an authentic brand that stands out from most brands. Hence the name Siwela, which means crossing over in Isizulu.
Digging into the South African wine industry; what are the hardships that came along?
The South African wine industry is one that is dominated by white and male persons. This makes it a bit of a challenge being black while at the same time it possesses its own advantages. The major challenge remains the ability to penetrate the market as there are too many brands already in the market. While exporting wine remains one of the opportunities in the industry, it also remains one channel that is highly expensive especially for a new brand with limited capital.
Distribution and marketing remain another challenge as these are the determining factors for a brand to really remain competitive in the market. If I can’t market and get my product to my customers, automatically it leads to the failure of the brand.
What are the main aims and objectives of Siwela wines?
Siwela wines aim to build a strong and sustainable brand while encouraging young South Africans to become active role players in the industry.
We don’t just produce wine, but we have other platforms that aim at empowering young people through education in wine.
Any remarkable wine-making or commercial mistakes you made while starting up?
I have spent a tremendous amount of years of gasping experience and knowledge in winemaking. I have also had the privilege to work very closely with one of the most experienced winemakers in the industry. This also gave me access to mentorship and an ability to perfect in my craft. However, I have made financial mistakes due to being new to the business world. Paying a lot of money for services that I could have paid less if I researched more.
What makes the brand of ‘The Lady Born to Inspire’ different from others?
I believe Siwela is more than just a bottle of wine, the brand is meant to inspire a generation. To speak to one and many young people to follow and work harder on their dreams. The brand also represents the South African culture, it is authentic and is created from premium grapes which we harvested and selected carefully to get the best grapes out of the Stellenbosch region.
Who are your inspirations in this long journey?
I think of phenomenal women in the wine industry such as Veuve Clicquot, a story that is so amazing and it started as simple as a dream. The brand established form nothing, but a thought and it was all done by a woman. Today everybody wants to drink the champagne.
How do you balance between customer satisfaction and employee benefit?
My customers must understand that the quality of the wine, the grapes and the brand itself will have an impact on the pricing. Although my primary focus now is building a strong brand, I also aim to remain competitive in terms of my pricing and at the same time making sure that the quality of my product remains consistent.
What strategies did you employ for Siwela wines that fetched great results?
Passion for my work, customer obsession, and dedication. I have gained so much support from friends and family. Most of the people in my circle have landed their expertise to assist with the growth and strategic planning for the brand.
With mounting growth rate of Siwela wines, do you have any plans to take it beyond South Africa, on international platforms?
Absolutely, I have also started doing export marketing, currently exporting to Cameroon, Ivory Coast and will be going to Ghana this month to explore the market that side.
If you wish to change a single thing about Siwela wines, what would it be and why?
if I could change, I would change the origin of my wine. Despite the great quality grape production, it would have been great to be able to grow grapes in Limpopo, my hometown. To be able to create more and better opportunities for young people in the wine industry.
The Youngest Entrepreneur’ or ‘The Owner of Siwela Wines’; which attracts you most?
Owner of Siwela Wines
Being a successful woman entrepreneur yourself, do you have any plans to reach out to the deprived and unprivileged women in Africa?
Absolutely, I aim to be more engaging with young women in Africa to encourage and inspire them to be better people in life and to always be persistent towards their goal. I am also embarking on another journey to establish a wine academy; this will be my way to give back but allowing myself to share my knowledge and expertise.
What is your piece of advice for young and emerging entrepreneurs?
My advice for young entrepreneurs is to go for what they are passionate about or interested in. Always build skills and expertise prior to making the journey much easier. There will be times when things get tough, one will always need the passion to keep them going. As an entrepreneur you don’t make money every day, you lose more money before you begin to make any. The only thing that will keep you going is the reason why you started in the first place.