My first Tops at Spar Soweto Wine Festival visit, Sowetans embrace wine…

The consumption of wine amongst black South Africans is still foreign to our drinking habits. We’re familiar with African brew (made from sorghum), beer, ciders, brandy and whiskey. Whiskey drinking is a status symbol in many respects and the more expensive the bottle is…you’re the man!

We drink African brew when hosting family rituals and cultural celebrations. Apart from that, African brew is also sold at local shebeens and its the cheapest form of alcohol targeting the lowest end of the market. This type of alcohol is looked down upon, especially by the youthful market and working class since they can afford better options. Businesswise this is a lucrative market for giant brewers such as Diageo and SA Breweries.

Diageo owns United National Breweries which produces sorghum beer brand Chibuku. On the other hand Alliance Beverages, which is owned by SA Breweries a subsidiary to SABMiller have Eyethu as their sorghum beer. Recently the Competition Commission handled a case where United National Breweries accused Alliance Beverages of buying the entire Chibuku stock off the shelves of a wholesaler in North West then replacing it with its own product, Eyethu.

My very first encounter with wine was with Overmeer way back in Swaziland in 1990 while still a high school student experimenting with alcohol with friends. I grew up at Mobeni Flats in Matsapha (an industrial hub of Swaziland). They were three of us, each contributing a few coins (not sure the exact price, maybe R12) and bought ourselves a box of Overmeer and a can of fizzy drink, coca-cola. We shared the coke amongst ourselves and once can was empty we rubbed it against the road surface until the top part opened so we could have a ‘wine glass’. We enjoyed our wine under a tree in a sunny Saturday afternoon in an open veld (near YKK Zippers factory) about 1km away from Mobeni Flats. We took turns drinking and each time you had the ‘wine glass’ in your hands you were expected to swallow everything at a go. At different intervals we would stand up just to confirm we were still fit to stand on our two legs and sat down again to continue our drinking spree.

I have no idea how long it took us to finish the 5 litres of Overmeer white wine, but recall that on our way back home we passed a video rental outlet and caused havoc there because we were totally sloshed. After being chased out of the video shop, still continuing with our journey back to our respective homes, I started vomiting and that continued until I reached home. By that time I could not walk without the aid of my two friends, each supporting me on both arms until we got to my flat with my late single mum standing by the door watching in disbelief her only son drunk like a lord. She swiftly instructed my friends to lead me into my room, the bed felt like it was spinning because I struggled to fall asleep. I vomited and passed out afterwards only to get a rude awakening the following day with my mum spitting  fire. I apologised for my sins and confessed to drinking alcohol, she was shuttered, but could no longer smack me any longer as I was now a teeneger.

On my way to visit my friends to share our previous day’s encounters, I passed another block of flats where a mum of my other friend who wasn’t with us when we were drinking saw me and gave me a serious lecture about drinking. Apparently the previous afternoon we passed by her place and she witness my chaotic state and told me in no uncertain terms that I should quit drinking alcohol because I was a disgrace to my family. I had my tail between my legs when I left her and profusely apologised for my deeds. For some very strange reasons both my friends were drunk, however not like me they still managed to be in control of everything while I was wasted…I was a joke of the year for my amateurship conduct. From that very day of my encounter with wine, I never drank it until last year when I was introduced to Alto Wines and have been hooked since then…now a responsible and matured drinker.

According to Soweto Wine Festival website, the idea of having a wine festival in Soweto was born around a braai in Pretoria in 2004 between neighbours Lyn Woodward (an original member) and Mnikelo Mangciphu (co-founding active member). The two were drinking wine out of Soweto Beer Festival glasses and several glasses later, thought what a good idea it would be to have a wine festival in Soweto.

It was also the right time to start introducing South Africa’s quality wines to the remaining 80% of our population. Wine should be a way of life for all South Africans. Eight years later, the Soweto Wine Festival is the pride of Soweto and the wine event not to miss on the annual South African wine calendar.

I have previously missed two Soweto Wine Festival invites before and luckily this year managed to attend and took pictures of the action, I opted for the last day’s event which was on a Saturday (5-7 September 2013)…

  • The Wine Tasting Session

The wine tasting sessions were held in a separate room from the main exhibition floor to enable patrons and wine gurus the opportunity to interact properly.

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  • The Wine Exhibition Floor

This is where all the wine exhibitors were showcasing their wine ranges and festival delegates having a blast tasting unlimited different wines on display. It was packed to capacity, with many thirsty patrons sampling different wines and exhibitors were also selling to those ready to make a purchase. I chatted to a few exhibitors and all confirmed that rosé wine was highly on demand and their task was to educate the delegates on other wines on offer.

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  • The VIP Lounge

I was privileged to be part of the VIP delegates and enjoyed the endless supply of fine food and fine wine. Sponsored by DSTV, the VIP Lounge offered live music performances and club DJ who entertained guests.

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  • The Tourism Exhibitors

Just along the main entrance a number of tourism brands such as Gauteng Tourism Authority, SANParks, Ezemvelo Wildlife and Tourism KwaZulu-Natal also exhibited.

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Author: Muzi Mohale

Hi there, am your host and I blog about the tourism industry in South Africa. You're also welcome to contribute your expert content on matters affecting the industry. You can reach me on muzi[at]

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