Baptism of Fire

Tariro Masayiti

Tariro Masayiti – creativity at Springfontein Wine Estate

Tariro Masayiti joined Springfontein Wine Estate as GM and winemaker shortly before harvest this year and nothing could have prepared him for his first challenge.  A very big fire broke out in the fynbos surrounding the farm and, with no access roads to the fire, firefighters waited at Springfontein for it to approach.  The fire was extinguished, but not before 5ha of Springfontein’s 25ha of vines was destroyed.

For Tariro there was a bigger blow.  In the turmoil, his Great Dane Vino was knocked down by a quad bike.  Someone else had to rush him to the vet while Tariro stayed to fight the fire.  Three repaired fractures later, Vino is back on the farm but faces a long recuperation.

It’s through serendipity that Tariro came to follow a career in wine.  A Zimbabwean from the small town of Marondera 72km outside Harare, he studied for a B.Sc. (chemistry and biochemistry) at the University of Zimbabwe and worked during his holidays at Mukuyu Wineries as an analyst in the lab.  It was a small estate so he was soon doing more and more outside the lab.  When the farm manager resigned, he was asked if he could ride a motorcycle and was offered the job.  He learnt from the winemaker what needed to be done.

It was from tourists to the winery that he learnt about a winemakers’ course at the University of Stellenbosch so he moved there and, after four years, made history by becoming the first black student to graduate in Viticulture and Oenology.  During his final year he was offered a job by Distell and became assistant winemaker for Fleur du Cap.  After 2½ years he was appointed senior winemaker at Nederburg, where he spent 6 years learning from Razvan Macici, the cellarmaster, and absorbing the philosophies and thinking of the legendary Gunter Brozel and his successors at this iconic estate.

What made Nederburg an invaluable learning experience was the way in which it sourced its grapes from different areas, and the tremendous expertise and resources that were available.  He was also exposed to marketing and travelled extensively in Africa.

Tariro also has a passion for marketing.  “It’s much more rewarding to get feedback when people drink your wines.  It’s all about making wines and getting the reaction.”

He started dreaming about his own small label but needed to gain red wine experience first, so he joined the KWV as red wine maker for one vintage.

And then he saw the advert for the winemaker for Springfontein.  He discussed it with his most important mentor, Dr. Rowald Hepp of Schloss Vollrads in Germany, and decided to apply.

Joining Springfontein means Tariro “can be creative in the way he does things.”

“Wine making has developed enormously outside of the traditional areas like Stellenbosch,” he says.  “Hemel-en-Aarde on the other side of Hermanus started demonstrating excellent wines quite some time ago but the potential of Stanford as a wine-making area still needs to be appreciated.  It’s time it was discovered.  It’s an area where the great SA varietals – Chenin blanc and Pinotage – thrive.  But we need to change mindsets because the Pinotage is not the typical Pinotage.   Nearby, Lomond, in the valley beyond Gansbaai, produces excellent Sauvignon blanc.

“The same thing has already happened in the Swartland over the past four years.  All the elements and personalities have come together and now they’re doing really great things.”

This is the rally call that Stanford needs and maybe Tariro is the person to lead the change, because local estates have focused on doing their own thing and haven’t really contributed to the Stanford brand as much as they should have.  Yes, Stanford estates are being promoted more collectively now but it lacks cohesion.  “It’s about getting together and complimenting each other; learning from each other,” he says.

So, at the age of 40 and with 11 harvests behind him, Tariro is ready to start having fun – while making wines that will surprise you.  There will be wines that are not mass market; there will be wines of character – the sort of thing you would expect from garagistes.  He mentions a bubbly made from chenin blanc/pinotage, natural fermentations, and fermenting in small open barrels.

And he’s enthusiastically supported by owners who set out to create an exceptional boutique wine estate which is a trendsetter.

His biggest disappointment so far has been that few Stanfordians have ever visited the estate.  So they’re doubling their efforts to make people feel welcome.  They’re open on Saturdays and Sundays and locals who phone an order through by 3pm on a Friday afternoon will have it delivered the same day.  And as part of their extensive social responsibility programme, a percentage of these sales will be donated to the local Rotary.

His girlfriend, Hildegard, is a horticulturist doing her Master’s thesis at Stellenbosch University on Buchu. She’ll be helping with the vegetable garden for the new restaurant at Springfontein and then there’s the untapped potential of many hectares of undeveloped fynbos on the farm.

The Springfontein adventure has just begun!

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