Tariro Masayiti: the black man who makes good white wine!

Date posted:
September 8, 2011

Thirty-something Tariro Masayiti is Nederburg’s black white winemaker, or to put it differently, he’s black and he makes the white wines at Nederburg Wines, South Africa’s most awarded winery, with more trophies, medals and accolades than any other in the country.

 

The brand appeals not only to the critics, however. It resonates resoundingly with the regular public and remains one of South Africa’s most popular labels, sold by specialty stockists as well as the supermarket chains, offered on the wine lists of trendy, fine dining establishments as well as more informal neighbourhood bistros. Marketed internationally, its sales are rising in the highly competitive markets of the US and the UK, despite the global credit crisis. Even the Australians are showing a growing appetite for Nederburg.

 

“It’s still something of a novelty in the South African wine industry to encounter black winemakers,” says Zimbabwean-born Tariro, whose name means “hope” in Shona, his mother tongue. “Every year at the Soweto Wine Festival, visitors express their excitement about it. Our numbers are growing, and that is very encouraging for black people who want to make a career of wine. It also helps to make wine more relevant for more South Africans.  It’s shaking off the perceptions of wine as a Eurocentric beverage.”

 

It was Nederburg’s reputation as a trusted name in wine for both connoisseurs and the man- or woman-in-the-street that made the idea of working for this Paarl winery so enticing for the BSc graduate from the University of Zimbabwe. “Getting this job ranks as one of the all-time high points in my life.”

 

He literally had to re-invent himself to make it happen. His passion for wine was unleashed in the 1990s while working as a laboratory analyst at a winery in Marondera, 70 km south-east of Harare. “We were producing around 2 million litres a year, which is a huge surprise to most people, as few even know Zimbabwe has any wine industry to speak of. If truth be told, wine is not really a part of indigenous Zimbabwean culture, but it didn’t take me long to develop an interest and one of my colleagues, a New Zealander, encouraged me to start thinking of becoming a winemaker myself. So I changed direction, becoming a trainee winemaker.”

 

After two years, he wanted to formalise his qualifications which meant studying again and moving to South Africa so he could enrol for a degree in viticulture and oenology at Stellenbosch University. “Although I got the chemistry credits from my previous degree, I had to start with the basics in all the other subjects and it took me four years. But I needed that time to acclimatise to a new culture and to learn enough Afrikaans to follow the course content.”

 

It certainly helped, landing him a job as an assistant winemaker in Stellenbosch, where he worked three vintages before moving to Nederburg in 2005 to join renowned cellarmaster Razvan Macici and take on the substantial portfolio of white wines. These include special-edition wines made exclusively for the annual Nederburg Auction and the white wines in the winery’s two connoisseur collections, Ingenuity and Manor House, as well as in the highly accessible Winemaster’s Reserve and Foundation ranges.

 

Tariro’s professional highlight has undoubtedly been the ranking of Nederburg as the Winery of the Year in the Platter’s South African Wine Guide, with an unprecedented five of its wines across the multi-tiered range earning five-star ratings in the 2011 edition. The accolade, that the guide calls its “Super Award”, is given “in recognition of a winegrowing team, who in the opinion of the editor, are ambassadors par excellence for South African wine”.

 

In addition to its quintet of five-star wines, Nederburg also produced Platter’s best overall value and easy-drinking, “Superquaffer of the Year”, underscoring the Paarl producer’s versatility in catering to a broad spectrum of winelovers.

 

Tariro made his first trip overseas in September 2009, visiting North America, where he was as excited at the opportunity of meeting US and Canadian vintners, tasting their wines and exchanging professional information as he was in presenting Nederburg to fascinated audiences.

 

He loves his work, but concedes that “if I am to make the best possible wines”, he needs balance in his life, which comes from the pleasure he takes in his two children, from tennis, table tennis and the occasional round of golf, as well as listening to house music and watching action movies and comedies. 

 

“There are no shortcuts to winemaking. Patience and timing are crucial. Timing, in particular, will determine the outcome of the wine. That’s why it’s critical to maintain a perspective by leading a full life.”

 

He has a special fondness for sauvignon blanc. “It was the first wine I learned to enjoy and it was also the first I could readily identify in a blind tasting. But more than that, it is the one varietal to express most clearly its origins. I admire its purity of fruit expression in aroma and taste. I love its freshness of flavour and crispness. It is the perfect wine for the South African climate.”

 

How did he get his name? “After three boys, my mother was hoping for a girl. But even though I couldn’t oblige, my next two siblings are sisters. I guess that made me realise how hope, combined with patience and determination, can often make your dreams come true.”

 

Ends

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