Writes; Tshepo Heqoa
At Sani Winery, the high altitude Chenin Blanc vintages’ are not only about making great wines from great fruit, but about the experience, moments and the people one shares it with too.
Wine production is still a new business venture in the history of Lesotho as it is nearly eight years since the first vines were planted. What a perfect timing for Lesotho, at the time that she needs to observe the law of comparative advantage. Sani winery has a formidable support from both the home and international market, to meet a demand equally unrivalled in all the history of wines, should Lesotho support the promotion of the brand.
The history of Sani Winery will be one of the most startling proofs of the treasures our country is ready to impart to those who are fascinated by industry and self-empowerment.
Phatela Thamae, the founder of Sani formerly got into agriculture from the year 1999 when, as he says, began to keep record of all the activities he was involved in. While his background at home prompted him towards the direction of agribusiness, his passion and zeal for it made him stay. After realising the potential of supporting his family through this undertaking, he then found solace there.
The idea of starting a winery had been beyond any of the Thamae family’s wildest dreams. Amidst all enterprises he would endeavour, wine production hardly featured in the least desired. At first, vegetable production was the sole field they were dedicated to as they were engrossed by an idea of orchards prompted by the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation in the Lesotho. Sparingly the trees were planted, starting off with peach and apple trees. Table grapes trees were also to follow conceived mainly for personal use and minimal selling.
Amid of the ceaseless toil, the family ventured to winery with another well renowned family from Paarl, South Africa – originally from Holland, Eric Verhaak with his wife Mariette. This couple coming all the way from across the frontier had an inexpressible interest in wine production that they enamoured Phatela’s family with the industry. Through trial and error, and soil sampling, both families tried many different vines over a six-year period, until establishing a particular vine best suited for Lesotho.
Pungent and direct was the exertion of the two who were passionate to see the grapes planted, pressed, and then bottled as wine. At first, Thamae had doubted the possibility of pulling up such an establishment as they were destitute of ideas and clues of the ‘to do how’. Negative impressions had been previously propagated to their minds as they learned about the bitterness of spirits but the pair amicably left a legacy of few vine stocks for them. Three years past, then the forth. As they ate of this trees, to their surprise and admiration they realised that they surpassed all the grapes they had ever kept with regard to palatability.
Because of the merits of Chenin Blanc, the wine production and vine plantations seem to be gaining toe above all the activities on the farm. Of truth, it is hard not to love Chenin Blanc. It’s versatile style, sweetness and ability to adapt to a wide variety of tastes makes it one of the extraordinary grape varieties in existence. The Thamaes have become much captivated with winery that other activities at the farm stand a risk of scoring low.
“A certain Japanese man from Maseru visited our place after hearing about wine production at Ha Ntsi sometime back. Following all the directions given him with much steadfastness, he found himself right at the place he was looking for just to satisfy his curiosity. After showing him the wine, and also being impressed he bought a sum of three bottles to show his colleagues who would have repudiated his report otherwise. This man encouraged us to send our product to Asia and surprisingly called us from Japan a few months later requesting that we send them our wine; the entreaty which we regretfully turned down because of our limited capacity.”
Such instances have motivated an increase of production on their part as many opportunities have been availing themselves again one after the other.
Mothiba Thamae, son to Phatela expounded more on the words of his father; “As we behold wine production, one will identify that it is a long time business. So at the moment we are still beginning, our production is still at its minimal. Our current production is only able to cover all the expenses we incur.”
The climate of the wine region tends to dictate what style of Chenin Blanc wine is most possible in the area. Lesotho has a dissimilar weather conditions from those in Western Cape where there have been intensive grape production to date. Our climate conditions here possess summer rains season which is unfavourable for grapes as they grow. Chenin Blanc is not suited for places with much rain at the time of fruiting because of numerous complications that arise – diseases (Powdery mildew and downy mildew). Lack of the irrigation equipment and hail storms are also limiting factors especially at the time of flowering.
The fermentation processes ought to be monitored to utmost precision throughout the production of all different vintages while the shooting up of the vine buds requires undistracted attention, failing on these points would put them on a position of incompetence in the eyes of their partners.
How he pulled his family working with him
It was a fascinating thought to be aware that Phatela and ‘Mamothiba’s children, Mothiba, Kananelo, Matoka, and Makhotso were raised by the soil. Not having much for a living he had to pay for their fees at school. It owes only to the love of agriculture why they are still working there. From early years they would help out passionately in all the affairs of the farm that after college they came back to help at the farm.
The Silo Editors’ award
Thousands and tens of thousands might be working upon the soils that are crowded into the cities, watching for a chance to earn a trifle. Many look upon labour as drudgery, and they try to obtain a livelihood by scheming rather than by honest toil. This desire to get a living without work opens the door to wretchedness and vice and crime of almost without limit. Phatela therefore understanding the role of industry in nurturing of his progeny outside crowded places, has passed to them the love for agriculture.
Phatela Thamae has been nominated to receive ‘The Silo Editor’s Award of Excellence’ during the opening dinner of The Silo Expo 2017 for his contribution in Lesotho’s innovative farming. At this very occasion, his eldest son who is an alumnus of both the Lesotho Agricultural College and the National University of Lesotho shall be a panellist on the topic ‘What type of Agricultural Graduate does Africa need?’ Where Dr. Mahlohonolo Mohasi of the National University of Lesotho shall be our keynote speaker.