The Soweto sommelier

2012-08-31 13:28

As the co-founder of the TOPS Soweto Wine Festival and the owner of Morara Wine Emporium, this Soweto-born entrepreneur’s love of wine has added a completely new dimension to the township.

Mnikelo Mangciphu is a man on a mission. “I want to demystify the misconception and stereotype about Soweto,” he says.

He is quick to point out what he knows about his neighbours: “Sowetans are very aspirant people, and when they see something that is done by people they look up to, it becomes a trend, and they start emulating that.”

Like most great ideas, the concept of the Soweto Wine Festival – now in its eighth year – was born from a friend’s get-together. Marilyn Cooper of the Cape Wine Academy was there.

Sitting on an ottoman in his small but intimate wine emporium, the softly-spoken Mangciphu becomes animated when talking about his favourite tipple, the La Luna brand of wine from the Paarl region.

“I love Bordeaux blends because the nose and the taste is well balanced, meaning what you smell and what you taste are the same.

The fruits that you smell are exactly what you taste, unlike some wines where you smell grapes and taste vinegar.

It’s that well integrated for me,” he says.

With more than 60 brands and 998 bottles, the emporium is a space for wine lovers and interested consumers to partake of the fruits of the vine, with the sounds of smooth jazz in the background.

“I’m proudly South African so 80% of all the wines that are here are from South African wine farms,” says Mangciphu.

The grapefruit and berry-scented room is joltingly different to the everyday, busy street life of Soweto just beyond the glass doors.

There are no price tags on the bottles or signs advertising specials on the wall. This, after all, is not a bottle store.

“I purposely don’t have price tags because I want that interaction with a client. I want to know what it is they eat and how best to help them choose the right kind of wine,” he says.

Morara, which is in Mofolo Central, has been in business for seven years and boasts a mainly young, black middle-class clientele, people who have moved out of the township but still visit regularly.

“They come back to visit family and friends and people are inspired by what it is they have and their lifestyle. These are trendsetters and my marketers, because it’s through word of mouth that people find out about my wine shop. They are my wine ambassadors,” he says with a chuckle.

Mangciphu feels his role at the Soweto Wine Festival is showing people that wine is more than a drink, but has a certain etiquette.

“Last year, there were 8 500 people that attended and this year we are expecting around the same.”

From having bootstrapped his business at the start because “no sane bank” would fund it, to celebrating seven years of its existence, Mangciphu has a lot to hold up a glass for. “When I started out, the customers would come only at the end of the month, but now I restock every two weeks. I want to change the mindset about Soweto and wine.”

» For more on the Morara Wine Emporium, visit

» The TOPS Soweto Wine Festival in association with Food Network will take place from Thursday to Saturday at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus. Tickets are available on or at the Morara Wine Emporium

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