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Centurion winemaker saw gap in market to educate people in townships about beverage

Tunisang Joseph Mojapelo, founder of TJ Wines. Picture: Jacques Naude African News Agency (ANA)

Tunisang Joseph Mojapelo, founder of TJ Wines. Picture: Jacques Naude African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 4, 2021

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Pretoria - Introducing and bringing wine to the doorsteps of people from townships is the reason behind the establishment of TJ Wines.

The self-ascribed wine is named after founder Tumisang Joseph Mojapelo from Centurion.

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He was born in Mabopane and raised in Soshanguve. Mojapelo says people from townships consumed less wine and more beer, gin, whisky and other types of drinks.

He saw the gap in the market to educate them about the beverage, about what it is, and how to spot a good one through wine tasting events in various townships in Pretoria on Sundays.

The idea of being a winemaker has always been a pipe dream for him, and he only started to set the business in motion in November 2019, he said.

The father of two, who is a lawyer by profession, said during a weight loss journey in 2011, he was instructed by his dietician to quit beer completely and try wine instead because of its health benefits.

And, as they say, the rest is history.

“Trying different wines such as merlots, pinotages and others, sparked my interest, and I actually thought I could start a business … and that is how it all began,” he said.

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As an aspiring winemaker who is currently taking wine making lessons, Mojapelo works with a highly experienced winemaker to assist in the production process.

TJ Wines, which produces the pinotage, buys grapes from wine farms in Stellenbosch, which is famous for its wine farms and home to some of the country’s billionaires.

The business also has a service contract with another farm to use its establishment’s resources such as tanks and barrels, and they then take over the production process.

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“Our business model sets TJ Wines apart from its competitors; we are able to price the wine competitively, at R105 a bottle, while our competitors would price their bottles from R180 and more, mostly because they are not involved in the production process,” he said.

In his first production, Mojapelo started with 1 020 bottles of wine and went on to produce 5 600 bottles.

According to the Paris-based International Organisation Vine and Wine, in April 2021, the area under vine throughout the world was estimated at 7.3 million hectares.

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South Africa ranked seventh among the biggest wine-producing countries on the planet, ahead of Chile and Germany and just behind Australia.

Unlike many other businesses which took a knock when the hard lockdown was initiated in 2020, surprisingly, TJ Wines did not experience any challenges because they had enough stock to distribute.

But they did have two big challenges, and, said Mojapelo, one was introducing the brand to the people and getting it out there, especially since he is the only distribution channel, and the other was access to the market.

“My aim was to get the brand out there and then start approaching conventional distribution outlets such as liquor stores because the chances of people buying your product without knowing it are very slim. In fact, they would not.

“I have had people call me for orders from as far as Alberton, Polokwane, Mafikeng and KwaZulu-Natal wanting to buy TJ Wines.

“Thanks to courier companies, I am able to meet the demand. Access remains a big stumbling block, though.”

One of his biggest highlights and humbling experiences so far was that establishments were the ones that now approached him, unlike before when he was the one going after them.

He added that people who visit pubs, clubs and bars in Soshanguve, Mabopane and Ga-Rankuwa know his brand well.

“I did not expect the reception I am getting from people and businesses, because I am new and still trying to crack into the industry.

“With that said, I would strongly encourage others who want to venture into business to go for it because the reception is there and people are waiting to support them.”

The father of two, who is also pursuing a Master’s in Intellectual Property at the University of Pretoria, said one of the biggest lessons he has learnt so far is that every cent counts; the winemaking industry is capital intensive, so one needs to produce in bulk, from grapes to bottles, labels and everything else that is needed in the production and post-production processes.

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