Almost a decade into democracy Malmsey Rangaka and her husband Diale swapped academics for wine farming, but this was totally by fluke. They bought a farm, and only realised afterwards in 2003, upon occupying the land that it was a wine farm with vineyards.
“It was not a well-thought-out plan. My husband loves farming, he comes from Phokeng and they had a farm with animals. He used to read farming magazines, but we did not plan to be wine farmers.”
It so happened that with their family living across the country either due to study or work, the Rangakas were looking for a place of serenity, where their family could spend time together. And the ideal place would be a farm, they thought.
“I said, we don’t have any farming experience, so whatever farm we get must be in an environment with support, must be a going concern and it must be something we’re passionate about.”
After looking at 21 farms, the Rangakas fell in love with a farm in Stellenbosch, in the Western Cape, which has now become the home of M’Hudi Wines. It became the first wine farm and BEE winery to be owned and managed by a black family. The name M’hudi is derived from the Setswana word “Mohudi” meaning “Harvester”.
They didn’t let the fact that they knew nothing about winemaking, let alone that they weren’t wine drinkers, deter them from making the most of their situation. “We said to ourselves, the wine industry is a big industry, we don’t know anything about farming, but we will learn.”
The Rangakas downloaded a lot of information about wine making and wine farming from the internet. “We were learning even before we came to the farm,” Malmsey says, “but what you read academically and what you see when you walk the space is completely different.”
The couple was fortunate that there were farm workers on the land who were able and willing to show them the ropes. Rangaka started working on the farm, which at that time wasn’t making wine, it was instead producing grapes to sell to corporates.
“I had to literally learn everything from the farm workers. They would tell me this is how we do this, and for that reason,” she explains. And thanks to neighbourly farmers surrounding her, Rangaka learnt a lot about harvesting. “In March 2004 I was managing our first harvest and the surrounding farmers rallied around . . . that’s how I learned.”
With her husband still employed full-time, and her son Tseliso starting his first job after graduating from university, Rangaka was left to manage the farm on her own. She needed help from family members and convinced Tseliso to join her. He did and this was the turning point for the business.
Using his journalistic talent Tseliso delved deeper and learned as much as he could about the wine industry, while writing for wine magazines and sites such as wine.co.za, Winescape, and contributing to John Platter’s South African Wines. “All this experience he brought home and said to me: ‘Mama I think we need to start thinking about making our own wine.’”
The family did not have a winery on the farm, but this was not a big obstacle since he suggested that building a good relationship with another winery could solve that problem.