Updated: May 29
“A Cabernet Sauvignon is the hill I would die on,” says wine lover Kwenzekile Hlongwane. This air traffic controller has turned her passion for wine into a movement committed to cutting through stereotypes while taking wine tastings to the townships.
Similar to whiskey, wine is simply more than a beverage to some people. It is part of who they are, woven into one’s personality. For 31-year-old air traffic controller Hlongwane it’s akin to a calling.
She began attending wine tastings over a decade ago and although newly discovered vino kept her coming back, she always went away perplexed. “They (the tastings) always seemed to take place in the suburbs and often I ran into people I knew from the Townships,” Hlongwane tells me.
Queue the birth of Winekokasi, which translates to ‘wine in the township’, a learning experience for patrons in the ghetto-similar to an experience one would get on some Cape farm besieged by grapes.
Stamping Out Stereotypes
Hlongwane does the heavy lifting of breaking misconceptions people have about wine at her Winekokasi tastings. “That ‘wine is for ladies’…‘wine is what they all know to be ‘natural sweet’ or ‘that bitter one’. ‘It's too larney for us in the Townships’ or ‘you need to be sitting somewhere in a suburban area, in front of a pool to enjoy wine’.”
These are just some of the stereotypes Hlongwane comes across on a regular. “I'm cutting all of that!” she says adamantly.
The first tasting she hosted was in May 2012 in her hometown of Katlegong in Ekurhuleni. “We had over 10 wine farms there, local businesses in Katlehong like Dexter's Butchery sponsored us and we had a proper wine show. Hosted just over 300 patrons and for a never been done before event, we did it.”
She then pitched the idea to one of Soweto’s biggest restaurants, Sakhumzi. The pitch was successful and for almost a year they hosted Winesdays (Wine on Wednesday). “That was surreal, such a fantastic learning experience. The staff were [sic] trained on wine etiquette by an accredited sommelier, we had wine lovers over there and spent Wednesday evenings talking food and grapes with like-minded people.”
A Business Balancing Act
Her meticulous approach to her business talks to the diligence she practices on her day job as an Area Controller at the OR Tambo International Airport. “I told you I liked doing things out of the norm, I love this profession so much. High pressure, decision making, team playing, accuracy. I've had the honour to validate both Cape Town Area and Johannesburg area, getting the experience for me is important, and it is something I'd love to do till I'm grey.”
Hlongwane has been an air traffic controller for nine years now and has found a way to juggle the insane working hours and growing her business.
“I am blessed to love both my career and my business, when you love what you do, you find the time. However, as a mother too, I get help often. Winekokasi works with promoters, I also am very careful to not over-commit myself.”
A licensed trader, Hlongwane views Winekokasi as more than just a passion project, but a profitable business that has grown through solid relationships she has built over the years. “Relationships are everything. I have relationships with these farms. Ahead of time, I would place an order with them, they would then assist with support as they would for any of their own activations,” she says.
Drink Wine Where You Are
“A lot of people drink wine in their homes, and I want a platform for people to drink wine together, try different wines, pair wine correctly and we need not leave ilokishi (the hood) to do so.”
Hlongwane’s work is serving its purpose. A group of guys from Daveyton who attended one of her tastings in Soweto a few years ago recently launched their own wine brand.
It seems quite inevitable for someone knowledgeable in winery as Hlongwane to maybe create her own brand by now, but she would rather complete her studies first before such a commitment.
“Accreditation is the most important thing for me, and my dream is to graduate as a winemaker, then work hard at making my own wine. My passion lies in the farming, the soil types, and the climatic influence.”
She has completed a South African Wine Education Course through Wine Of South Africa (WOSA) and she’s about to start her Level 1 with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). “I’d also like to start my undergrad for wine farming through UCT within the next year.”
Author: Bonginkosi Tiwane