ENTREPRENEUR and wine producer Mbali Masike says reclaiming her identity was the first step in proclaiming her assertiveness that later catapulted her into the male-dominated business of wine production.
This week the feisty and stylish mother of two boys, had her second Kasi-style launch of her wine and food products, aptly named Ngiyi Mbali, along popular Vilakazi Street in Orlando West, Soweto.
The street has become an entrepreneur’s hub attracting local and overseas tourists drawn to the Struggle Trial encompassing the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, struggle stalwart Nelson Mandela’s historic matchbox house, Nobel Laureate archbishop Desmond Tutu’s home just around the corner and a plethora of fine restaurants and wine bars. Her first launch was here in December at the night market which is open every last Thursday of the month.
During the interview at her stall, tourists could not resist the lure of her products, the wines, especially.
When told she was the producer, hearty congratulations followed, then requests for a sample.
After a few sips and gulps and nods of approval, notes came out, and one bottle after the other was snapped up until there was nothing left. For the 36 year old who was raised in the rough and tumble of the township, taking risks and standing up for what she believes in, are lessons she learnt from her family.
It was Mbali’s teetotaller mother who brought home that first bottle of wine which ignited her love and interest for winemaking. She says at first the wine tasted sour but after her mother suggested she drank it with food, the taste changed completely and she was captivated.
She spent the next years tracking down the producer of that wine who happened to be world-renowned Paarl wine farmer John-Robert Frater - the 5th generation of winemakers on De Zoete Inval Estate in Paarl. The family has been producing wines for more than a century.
But that did not deter the determined street smart Soweto girl from eventually connecting with the cellar master from Boland, who agreed to be her mentor.
Frater was impressed by her determination and as a result she struck a good deal.
The mentorship started five years ago and will continue until she can afford her own vineyard, which is her dream. She describes Frater as a good mentor - “he is patient, he listens and is always ready to teach”.
Frater also found a good student in Mbali. When she suggested the addition of blackberry currents into her wine, he thought she was out of her mind. But the results are her flagship Dark Angel Pinotage, a bold, fruity drink that goes excellently with most food especially hot curries and spicy dishes.
The Dark Angel is the only bottle she has not named after her family. Some of her wines come with names such as Sebata, a rosé called Takalo because she believes happy-go-lucky people love drinking fruity wines. The Shoki Shiraz, named after her mom Shoki Masike because “she is cheeky but sweet” a tribute to her for raising her to be an assertive woman. “My mom is a very powerful woman and I feel if at some point she had become selfish, she would have achieved far more. Her experience taught me that I need to be my own person”.
She insists she can’t complete her story without mentioning the love of her biological father Patrick Tshabalala who gave her the name Nombali when she was born. But her mom changed it to Palesa after the couple separated when she was about four.
Over the years she longed for her real name because she always knew that her “dad”, although absent, loved her and used every opportunity to remind her of his love.
An opportunity to reclaim her identity presented itself in 2002 when she was a guest on SABC’s Zola 7. She told the host that her dream was to go parachuting and to reclaim her name Mbali.
True to her dream she parachuted into the Zola 7 studios and then reclaimed her name Mbali, and she describes that moment as her rebirth.
“I need to acknowledge both my dads - my biological father who would ensure that I always knew he loved me and was there for me. And my step-dad who raised me. My mom ensured that together with my two brothers, we were a close-knit family.
“It is important for a girl to receive validation from her father when she is growing up. I was always confident of myself. Both my dads and my mom used to make it like ‘you are too good to have sex’ when I was a teenager. And that made me stay away from it for as long as I could. I finished matric and then went on to university before I started thinking about sex.
“Now I have realised that before I am a mom, a wife and an employee, it is important to build myself as a person and as a woman. Hence I ventured into wine- producing”.
Mbali has a day job in sales and marketing for a legal insurance company and she intends keeping it that way until she can make her wine business successful. She has no sponsors and used all her savings to ensure that her business grows.
“The wine business is a family business with my brothers Nkamogeleng (head of operations) and Boikhutso (administration) and Tshidiso Legae (graphic designer) that we started using my two children’s trust funds. I know in the long run it will pay dividends and I am doing this for my children and I know this will benefit them. For me it’s not just taking out wine and then selling it. I want to be involved in the whole operation,” she said.
Her products are not in any stores yet, but orders can be placed via facebook www.NgiyiMbali.co.za or WhatsApp and calls on 0836478548.
The Sunday Independent