Gugulethu Wine Festival

Tuesday, 31 May, 2011
Cathy Marston
For many years people have been asking why there isn't a wine festival in the townships of Cape Town.
The Soweto Festival has gone from strength to strength, creating a vibrant, wine-loving culture in the townships of Johannesburg, so why hasn’t it been replicated here in the Cape when all the wine is immediately at hand? It’s a question well-worth asking, but for many years there was no answer.

Then, two years ago, the iTownship Festival was held, next door to the yet-to-be-opened Gugulethu Square Mall. The website boasted of 90 wineries exhibiting and hoped to attract 2000 visitors over its duration. I was one of the very few journalists who made it out to the festival – it hadn’t been easy to get information from the organisers, there were no maps or directions to the venue and the event itself was a bit disorganised and not particularly well-attended. The following year, nothing happened and it looked as if townships and wine were going to remain separate countries for a while longer.

Marketing visionary and community leader, Mzoli Ngcawuzele was one of the exhibitors at that festival and he clearly saw enough interest and enthusiasm to make him believe that the event had some potential. Together with businessman Lungile Mbalo, they approached Marilyn Cooper, head of the Cape Wine Academy and one of the organisers of the Soweto Festival. Lessons had been learnt, comments had been noted. The time was ripe to try again.

“We need to educate black people about wine” declares Lungile Mbalo. “It’s a multi-million rand industry and if black people want to get a slice of it, they need to know about the product. And I think the time is right and people are hungry to learn.” And hungry they were. Ticket sales were halted the first day at 7pm as there was no more room inside the marquee on top of the Gugulethu Square Mall. “We had to pack up all the wine at 9pm” confides one of the exhibitors “or I think we would have been going right through the night!”. Nederburg winemaker, Tariro Masayiti’s food and wine-matching experience was full within seconds, with those unable to get in hanging around, noses pressed to the glass to see what they were missing. People were filing in, in a steady stream throughout the afternoon and the music was ramping up a notch every quarter of an hour.

So it was certainly much busier than the previous festival, but was it any better? I spoke to several exhibitors, some of whom had attended the earlier festival. All of them were full of praise for the diligence, efficiency and professionalism of the organisers and all of them said they intended coming back again next year. The event marketing and PR was a triumph, with red-hot tweets filling everyone’s stream on Friday night, plenty of influential journalists and media folk attending and lots of coverage both in the printed press and online. The majority of the stands were manned by black staff – a crucial point in giving people the confidence to ask questions about the wines. As you would expect with any new wine-drinkers, it was the sweeter styles of wine which were preferred, but most of the exhibitors had brought a range of different styles and prices, reflecting the fact that amongst the newbies were many sophisticated and knowledgeable wine-lovers as well.

Lungile says they have big plans for the next one – he hopes to double in size - and with headline sponsor, TOPS at Spar, already signed up for another two years, it certainly looks like that is a reasonable aim. He also hopes that this festival can be the catalyst for other wine events in the townships – the Cape Wine Academy was busily collecting details from visitors so perhaps some wine courses are in the offing? But the biggest winner looks set to be Gugulethu and a community still struggling to overcome the recent setbacks to their fragile tourism industry. Lungile reckons that about half the people attending came from outside Gugs, many of whom may not have ventured into a township before. To realise it is a warm, lively community, full of ordinary people having a good time and to be able to share a love – and a glass or two - of wine with them, is possibly the best education of all.

Click on the provided links to view three short video clips featuring Mzoli Ngcawuzele, Lungile Mbalo and Marilyn Cooper and their reflections on the Gugulethu Wine Festival 2011. To see more images from the event please click here.
Mzoli Ngcawuzele, Elmari Swart and Lungile Mbalo
Mzoli Ngcawuzele, Elmari Swart and Lungile Mbalo

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