The first Soweto Wine Festival was more of a media success than one of attracting vast numbers of wine lovers to taste the more than 500 wines exhibited by about 86 wineries and wine companies. Sponsored by the South African Wine Industry Trust (Sawit) in conjunction with the Sowetan newspaper, the festival formed part of Soweto’s centenary celebrations, which added to the atmosphere. Organisers of the event, however, are extremely pleased with the inaugural festival held at the Ubuntu Kraal in Orlando West in early September and are already working on marketing strategies for next year. These include expanding into a marquee tent, and pitching the event at middle management structures and not just the top end of the corporate ladder.

From a practical point of view the show will start later on the Friday night and close later, to allow patrons to get there through the rush-hour traffic.

“We were breaking new ground; it was exciting to be able to get in and do the festival. Although 1 500 wine lovers attended, this is half the number we were hoping for,” said Marilyn Cooper, one of four organisers.

Marilyn is the director of the South African Wine Academy in Gauteng and her partners in the venture are Gauteng entrepreneurs Mnikelo Mangciphu and Thami Xaba and Lyn Woodward, an organiser with the Wine Academy. The Academy provides courses for people who want to gain a deeper understanding of wine.

“At the end of the day it was a small step, but we know that it will grow; everybody who attended and those producers we spoke to afterwards understood this. Coming in at ground level will stand them in good stead next year.

“There were even some white folk coming to enjoy the festival, including one guy who travelled up from Durban.

“The festival made international news around the world and we had television teams filming and journalists writing about the event. That was incredible.

“It was also very encouraging to have so many empowerment companies showing their wines. Again this is a promising start and we would like to see this segment growing along with the rest of the festival next year,” said Marilyn.

One of the producers who went the whole nine yards and experienced Soweto to the full was David Sonnenberg, proprietor of Diemersfontein Wines near Wellington. He and a small team, which included Cedric de Wet and Spangeziswe Yekiso, stayed over in a guesthouse in Vizilikazi Street, close to the venue.

“It is an experience every white South African should have. The area where we stayed was vibrant and dynamic. We went to restaurants and taverns, the Mandela House and Hector Pietersen Memorial Museum and there was an amazing amount of goodwill.

“With regard to the show, we would obviously liked to have seen more people, but it was a good start and I have no doubt that it will develop. We launched our new Tokazani empowerment wine which we are doing in conjunction with our personnel and outside black investors.

“As with any wine show we found people who were venturing into wine for the first time and others whose wine knowledge was profound. It is a show we will be attending again next year,” David said.

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