Born in Hluhluwane in the north of KwaZulu-Natal, Mathonsi started his journey in winemaking as an assistant winemaker 14 years ago, after graduating from Stellenbosch University with a BSc in agriculture.
Today, Zonnebloem has appointed him as the winery’s lead white winemaker and he will work closely with Cellar Master Elize Coetzee to continue crafting superior quality wines for the brand.
Mathonsi tells DESTINY MAN that his journey in this sector has been really great and he has been fortunate to work with highly talented and passionate winemakers, both locally and internationally.
“I have learnt a great deal from my previous position as an assistant winemaker and I look forward to continue learning in my new working environment at Zonnebloem,” he says.
Since starting his career more than a decade ago, he has travelled and worked with various winemakers around the world and hopes to bring his knowledge and expertise to his new team and for it to positively influence the wines he produces.
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Although well-versed in producing both red and white wines, Mathonsi’s favourite white varietal is Chardonnay.
“There was just something so spectacular about this versatile grape – Chardonnay is the king of the white grapes, because it makes for a very adaptable wine style. The grape is very forgiving and can handle harsh growing conditions better than most white grapes. The Chardonnay grape is also very resistant to diseases and makes exceptional oaked or unoaked wines.”
He reckons that he is honoured and privileged to be in his new position at Zonnebloem. “It is not going to be easy to lead a team of this magnitude, but I have the support structure to assist me in my new role and most importantly, I have a team of highly talented, dedicated and focused individuals that work tirelessly, week in and week out,” he says.
Mathonsi recalls how his passion for winemaking developed about a decade ago, when he couldn’t figure out what to do after completing his matric in 1999. It started at Stellenbosch University, where he met Jabulani Ntshangase, who recruited students to study viticulture and oenology.
Like many other students, he didn’t have a place to stay, so they lived at Ntshangase’s house throughout the whole of his first year. He was introduced to viticulture while commuting between one of Ntshangase’s houses in Malmesbury. “He introduced us to winemaking by taking us with him when he visited his winemaker friends in the industry,” he says.
As students, they were also introduced to wine culture. “I had never before enjoyed real wine until I arrived in Stellenbosch and met with Ntshangase – that is where it all started. That continued throughout my four years of undergraduate studies and beyond,” he says.
He says he passion in the industry lies in the landscape of the winelands, the level of hospitality in the tasting room and the diversity of the wine styles that are produced throughout the industry.
“I love to hear all the great stories that each every wine label has to tell. I love the heritage of our industry –the list is just endless,” he says.
An initial stumbling block was the Afrikaans language of instruction at the university, but with time he tried to learn and understand it. “The fact that wine was not part of my upbringing and that winemaking is more than a job, but a lifestyle choice meant my family really struggled to understand my decision,” he says.
He believes the sector holds both great opportunities and challenges that need to be tackled head-on. “If we all pull together in one direction with the help of our government, we can really make a difference in many people’s lives that depend on our wine industry’s success,” he says.