It may be that you come from the UK, in which case you have been denied theprivilege of tasting the pinotage of your life. This would be M'hudi pinotage and I should be glad to explain to you the reason for this deprivation.
The message was signed ‘Oupa’. I was intrigued, but the name M’Hudi was not unknown to me as Marks & Spencer in the UK stock a stunning M’Hudi Sauvignon Blanc.
It was difficult to arrange a visit to meet Oupa since not only was he in the middle of the harvest, but a TV camera crew was monopolising his time for a documentary programme. Oupa, meaning Grandpa, is the nickname of Diale Rangaka and I finally managed to meet him on his farm.
Oupa spent his life in Education, was a Dean of Humanities in the University of Mafikeng* then the Deputy Dean of Education before moving to Johannesburg as Principal of Soweto Campus, then University of Johannesburg. He’d also spent a winter at the University of Sussex in England, but dark cold British winters were a shock to his system. His wife Malmsey, who was working as a clinical psychologist, wanted to retire and Oupa had always dreamt of owning a farm. Under the old system black people couldn’t buy land but now the government was encouraging black farmers with beneficial loans. It wasn’t plain-sailing as Government departments didn’t work together, but finally Oupa and his wife were in position to look for a farm. After visiting a few they took possession in 2003 of a small rundown property growing guava and grape vines on the edge of the Stellenbosch region. “Maybe other buyers were discouraged by the squatters’ camp by our entrance,” Oupa said, “but they are just people. There are good people and bad people there, priests and workers….. I visited and talked with them.”
Oupa and Malmsey’s previous careers hadn’t prepared them for life as farmers. They knew nothing and were very much on their own. “Our farm workers left as they didn’t want to work for a black boss,” Oupa told me. So he researched the information he needed. “But everything we read came from Europe and North America in the northern hemisphere, we didn’t realise the seasons were different and so we were doing things like pruning at the wrong time of year.”
Oupa’s farm is on the same road as the Villiera winery. Villiera’s owner Jeff Grier and his wife called to introduce themselves and to welcome the Rangaka family to the neighbourhood. Simon Grier lives next to M’Hudi and passed every day on his way to the winery. “Simon would stop and ask “Why are you doing that?” laughs Oupa, “and he’d point out what needed to be done.” Oupa’s son Tsêliso went to learn winemaking at Villiera and the first M’Hudi wines were bottled and sold from Villiera’s tasting room.
Then Marks and Spencer came calling. They were interested having exclusive UK rights to M’Hudi wines and Oupa, knowing their reputation, agreed. “M&S helped us set up proper procedures for admin, worker health and safety and they helped us get WIETA accreditation. Since M&S have exclusivity they have kept M’Hudi’s attractive front labels, with just the M&S name overprinted.
Inspiration for M'Hudi's name came from Sol T Plaatje’s novel published in 1930, the first to be written in English by a black South African. M'hudi's story is one of courage, determination against seemingly impossible odds and the relentless pursuit of one's dreams and wishes. The label shows M’Hudi – derived from the Setswana word, Mohudi meaning Harvester – scattering seed on the ground while above her flares Halley’s comet. Oupa tells me the name can be pronounced either as M’-Hoodee or Moody.
So now to taste ‘the pinotage of your life’. “It was made at Villiera,” says Oupa, “from our grapes and some of Villiera’s. It spent 8 months or so in 2nd fill French oak barrels and was then rounded off in North American oak which has tamed the tannins. It is a value for money wine which costs 38.50R, and it’s a bloody good wine – probably as good as any 70R wine!”
Attractively soft and approachable, with generous plum and vanilla tones and some tannins on the finish. Good drinking, if not the Pinotage of my life, but give them a few years and who knows….
Oupa has great plans for his farm: a restaurant, accommodation, function room and a tasting room are in the future. But for the time being taste the M’Hudi range at Villiera. In the UK, Marks & Spencer stock M’Hudi Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc but not, unfortunately, their Pinotage.
*Oupa was most insistent that I used the correct spelling of the place the British know as Mafeking. Mafikeng means 'the place of stones' and Sol T Plaatje worked there as a magistrates' court interpretor and kept a diary during the famous siege.