M’hudi Boutique Family Wines is a very personal journey for the Rangaka family who risked everything to chase their cherished dream of owning a farm.
For Diale and Malmsey Rangaka, owners of M’hudi Wines, their family is the heart and soul of their business. At the time when they moved to the Western Cape from the North West Province, the Rangaka children were all studying in different parts of the country and the farm was the place they could all be together as a family.
Starting from scratch
After looking at several farms in different provinces, Malmsey found a farm in Stellenbosch on the internet in 2002. “It was the cheapest on the market, so we came down to have a look.” But once they saw it, they knew this would be the place they would call their new home.
The couple applied for LRAD (Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development) funds, but in the final stages of purchasing the farm, they were informed there were no funds available. Already committing their minds and hearts to this farm, Diale and Malmsey sold their properties in the North West and applied through the Land Bank for a loan to buy the farm.
“At first, we didn’t think of making wine, but once we made the decision, there was no turning back”, says Malmsey. The farm had guava trees and old vines that needed to be replaced in phases due to the cost involved. To speed up the process, M’hudi applied for funding from the SA Wine Industry Transformation Unit (SAWITU) in 2020 to plant new vines and SAWITU also assisted them to apply for Hortfin funds, which they are hopeful to get approved.
They pooled their expertise
The Rangaka’s are an accomplished family. Mom Malmsey, the matriarch and life force of M’hudi, is a clinical psychologist who worked for a government department at the time they bought the farm. She is currently the CEO of the company. Dad Diale, head of the family and a professor in tertiary education at the University of the North West and the University of Johannesburg, left a successful career to join Malmsey full time on the farm in 2004. He lives out his love for the outdoors and farming amongst the orchards and vineyards on the farm and also manages their exports.
Their eldest son, Tsêliso is qualified in advertising and an experienced journalist who wrote for several wine publications, including wine.co.za, Winescape and the John Platter Guide. He spent eight years on the farm developing the brand before he went back to advertising. He still oversees the branding and represents the M’hudi brand in Gauteng. His wife Vanessa helps with business strategy and financial advice.
The youngest son, Senyane, is a filmmaker who achieved top honours for a short film in the Cannes Film Festival. He is responsible for the marketing material and product development and is working full time on the farm. His wife Rae-Leigh also works full-time at the farm managing the tasting room and events.
Lebogang, the Rangaka’s only daughter studied Human Resources and completed her MBA at Stellenbosch University. She works full-time in the corporate world and part-time in the family business, establishing the M’hudi brand in the local market. “I was trained in wine retail by professionals from the British retailer Marks & Spencer” says Lebogang “and intent to go back to working in the family business full time again in future”.
The ups and downs of building a brand
M’hudi made their first wines in 2005 and made a name for itself overseas before it started to make a mark in South Africa. With annual grant funding from SAWITU since 2017, the Rangaka’s could steadily grow their business. The M’hudi brand had exclusive rights at British retail giant Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom. They also exported to the US, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Nigeria.
Their attendance at wine trade fairs in China, Moscow and Ghana and participation at the tasting at the embassy in Denmark expanded their trade and export possibilities. The brand also participated at Tops at Spar shows in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Nelspruit. All these were supported and funded by SAWITU to assist the brand in growing market share.
“Things went very well, until Covid hit us”, says Malmsey. “The initial ban on wine exports was a game changer for us. Our business was dependent on exports and due to the ban, our wines were stuck in the port for three months.”
M’hudi lost most of their existing markets and new orders for the Scandinavian countries and China were haltered.
The repetitive and prolonged ban on local sales put further pressure on the business and they were forced to reduce their permanent labour from eight to three people. The Covid-relief funds from SAWITU helped to keep the remaining workers employed.
Loosing key markets was a devastating blow for the business, but the Rangaka’s don’t give up so easily. They got to work and gained Botswana and Holland recently and are making plan to manage their risks.
Malmsey’s formidable nature does not allow her to wallow in what “could have been”. Having the foresight she is known for, she is already making plans to build a cellar on the farm. “A large percentage of wine sales happens at the cellar. We also need this to expand our wine tourism offer.” Under Malmsey’s leadership, M’hudi received the Emerging Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2010.
In 2019 they partially renovated the old tasting room, which was previously a tractor room, with funds from SAWITU. The farm can now host functions and small weddings in the venue. “We are fortunate that the building has a solid structure and although we still need more renovations, we are happy with what we could accomplish so far.”
Building a lasting legacy
The Rangaka’s are seen as pioneers as they are told to be the first black-owned wine tourism family farm in Stellenbosch. They’ve created a space for their children to feel at home and are very happy that their six grandchildren can grow up on the farm.
Tsêliso, Senyane, Lebogang and their spouses are growing with the farm, each in their respective fields of expertise, and will teach their children about the wine business and prepare them to take over the baton from their parents and grandparents.