Adding a little bit of joy into every glass of wine is what Putsuezyna “Putsue” Mdluli describes as the drive behind her passion for winemaking. She began with only a vague knowledge of winemaking before progressing to the point of being skilled enough to create her own brand of wines.
Putsue’s passion for winemaking started in 2015 while she was studying towards a Bachelor of Science in food science at Stellenbosch University. With her course focus on fermentation technology, she was limited to learning about brewing and distillation, which refers to the process that all spirits go through to make them purer. Putsue felt that this was a bit like following a recipe and that it was no longer what she wanted to do. She wanted to explore.
Taking a chance
Sitting in the Cape Dutch architectural style building on 38 Mark Street where Putsue’s office is located, one can almost feel the creative ideas fill the space. She goes on to describe how she reached the decision to study further and explore winemaking, enrolling for an honours in wine biotechnology.
What drew Putsue to the course was the complexities of winemaking. She believes that there are no real experts, because just as it happens in life, you “take chances and play with different blends and you never know what you will end up with”. “It’s life. You never know what to expect from life, even if you plan.” She was able to break away from the mundane recipes of fermentation and distillation and immerse herself in the creation of beautiful blends.
With food science as her background and a family that does not really drink wine, Putsue had very little experience with wine compared to her peers. This sometimes made her feel “left out the conversation”. Despite feeling ostracised, she took to reading and writing to clear her mind, and often visited the wine cellar available to the students to experiment with different blends.
A superb blend
The wine cellar, Putsue recalls, was her escape from the challenges she faced. She often visited the cellar to make a shiraz or sauvignon blanc, test different blends, and to unwind. One day, she was “just playing around” when she made a particularly good blend – by the standards of the cellar master. She quickly dismissed the affirmation, thinking that he was being too kind, but the praise also resounded from her classmates who insisted that the blend that she had made was indeed superb.
She continued exploring different blends and realised that she was onto something good. The cellar master connected her with her mentor in 2018. He took her under his wing and encouraged Putsue to start her own brand.
Then came Tsakasile
Not long thereafter in 2019, Tsakasile was born. The name Tsakasile means “joy” in Siswati and was inspired by the happiness that Putsue was pursuing. Tsakasile consists of 100% cultivar shiraz and Merlot, 100% Sauvignon Blanc, a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Moscato. Her brand soon became sought-after in her hometown of Pretoria (Tshwane), as well as in Mpumalanga Province, Mozambique, and Swaziland – all areas that had influenced her upbringing.
As the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns took the world by storm, Putsue was facing her own troubles. As Tsakasile was operating under her mentor’s name, she had warehousing and other facilities available to her. With the alcohol ban, the warehouse was broken into and various wines, including Putsue’s, were stolen. This put many of the plans that Putsue had for her brand on hold, and this had a knock-on effect on her personal life.
Putsue, ever the optimist, says that she is grateful for the adversity, because it made her stronger and wiser. She has been able to establish Tsakasile independently. She says that more opportunities are now present in the close-knit community of winemakers in Stellenbosch, especially with the assistance of the Nedbank-funded Building Business programme driven by Ranyaka.
Putsue explains the the Building Business programme provided her with a platform to share and discuss business challenges and gave her access to a mentor, as well as networking opportunities. She says that the programme connected her with many people in the same industry, and people from other industries as well. She has benefited greatly from workshops hosted by experts, as well as social group classes. “I gained many insights through connecting with salient, trustworthy and applicable insights and resources,” says Putsue. “The participants also have access to resources that help one build your leadership and give access to training.”
“Being an entrepreneur can give you tunnel vision. You are focused on few things and often very critical of yourself,” said Putsue. The Building Business programme helped her get a better understanding of how to channel all her skills as an entrepreneur.
At the moment and for the next two years, Putsue will be focusing on making Methode Cap Classique (MCC) – a sparkling wine or the South African version of ‘Champagne’ while completing her Masters in Science with a focus on winemaking.
Contact Tsakasile Wines & Spirits on 062 281 2088.