Going solo pays off for wine-makers

Vernon Henn, managing director at Thandi Wines

Vernon Henn, managing director at Thandi WinesSince attending trade export missions, a local wine farmer is now exporting to five countries in Europe and five in Asia.

Since attending trade export missions, a local wine farmer is now exporting to five countries in Europe and five in Asia.

Vernon Henn, managing director of Thandi Wines in the Western Cape, says the business was started in 1999 and was largely supported by Vinfruco, a large winery business.

“The plan was for Thandi Wines to use its existing route and brand to market until Thandi Wines was able to grow to an extent where it was able to do it on its own,” says Henn.

Six years later, in 2007, it was decided that Thandi Wines was ready to be independent, and the business became the first black-owned wine company.

However, the process was delayed by two years as Henn set out to untangle the processes of Thandi Wines that overlapped with Vinfruco.

As a result of this delay, the market conditions at the time (in 2007) were very different from the conditions in 2009.

“When Thandi Wines finally went independent in 2009, it was a bad time for the wine exporting industry. The European markets were saturated and the rand exchange rate was not good,” says Henn.

He then approached the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for assistance by writing letters to the director general who Henn says “responded fantastically”.

Henn says he estimates the business generated as a result of the assistance his business received from the DTI is worth about R4 million.

“The flights, accommodation and funding is worth about R1 million. This year will be the fifth year we receive assistance from the Export Marketing and Investment Assistance (Emia) scheme,” says Henn.

Emia is an initiative of the DTI that seeks to develop export markets for South African products and services.

The most recent success as a result of the Emia scheme is that Henn has managed to secure new business in Germany and, having just returned from a trade mission in Hong Kong, he is optimistic the “major interest” will materialise as new business.

“Our plan is to make Thandi Wines the most successful company in the wine industry and we are looking to do business with 20 to 25 small black suppliers and to create partnerships,” says Henn.

Thandi Wines is owned by 250 families who live on three farms owned by Thandi Wines.

Henn says the highlights for the business has been being named top exporter of wines in the country and also being perceived as a leader in the wine industry. He cautions business owners wanting to enter the industry that it is a “cash-hungry” business and that startups require sufficient working capital and funding to make their business a success.

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