Eight Reasons to Feel the Joy of Johannesburg

Veteran journalist, Len Maseko shines a spotlight on why the City of Gold is an important trade route for South African wine.

Once, a vital mining town, Johannesburg has evolved as a continental driver of commerce, cuisine and culture. The City of Johannesburg has the dexterity to take Africa to the world and the drive to bring the world to Africa.

In 2017, Johannesburg celebrated its fifth consecutive year as Africa’s most popular destination.

At that point, Johannesburg attracted 4.05million annual international visitors. Compared to its continental peers, The City of Gold shone. Marrakech, in Morocco welcomed 3.93million international overnight visitors, South African cities, Polokwane and Cape Town attracted 1.88million visitors and 1.73million visitors respectively.

The Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index ranked 162 destination cities, with reference to visitor volume and spend. Mark Elliott, Division President of Mastercard South Africa said, “the ranking is significant as visitor expenditure contributes an important source of revenue to the retail, hospitality, restaurant and cultural sectors.”

The significance of this travel footprint was aligned with dollar spend. Johannesburg received the highest international overnight visitor expenditure among African cities, with US$2.14billion spent in 2017, where its successor, Marrakech, received US$1.64billion.

The significance of Johannesburg as a conduit for South African wine is best described by journalist, Len Maseko.

“Joburg is a truly vibrant city with soul; rich with a cosmopolitan character second to none in this country. In fact, it’s much easier to make friends here than anywhere else. Joburg offers a myriad of nightlife options for insomniacs, geared up for zesty pub-crawling,” Len says.

Len says that when he visits the Cape, “Tulbagh is special to me, for visiting farms like Saronsberg, Stellenbosch, where I make a beeline to Delaire Graff and Franschhoek, for La Motte.”

While twenty-two South African wine routes and the South African brandy homes lure many domestic and international visitors, it is imperative to recognize why Jozi Maboneng is a crucial trade route for South African wine.

  1. Land of Opportunity

Len Maseko’s own genesis as a journalist reveals the radical potential that Johannesburg provides.

“Believe it or not – I started out as a photographer back in 1975, having been trained for three years by South Africa’s foremost photographic legend, David Goldblatt at the Open School of Arts in Braamfontein. I also attended creative writing and music classes there,” Len says.

“Besides taking part in a few photographic exhibitions, my work was published in magazines like: Drum, Staffrider, Bonanza, Tranzvaal Post and Sunday Post – at the time. Then, while planning to go to university to study chemical engineering in 1980, I saw an advert in which Post newspaper was looking for matric students with good English Language pass-marks to train as journalists. Armed with a B-grade pass from my O-Level English exams, I got the job and was sent to a journalism course immediately, and, much later, the Argus Journalism Training School at the Star.”

  1. Sowetan Sagacity

“Around 1975, I was initiated into wine appreciation during my student days,” Len says. The white Wits University students who played the dual-role of faculty at the Open School of Arts were also their party-mates.

Len expands, “during the next decade, or so, my palate evolved from savouring sweet wines to dry wines. In fact, I once hosted what could have been one of the rare township wine tastings of the time, at my Soweto home in 1980. Stellenbosch Farmers Winery sent its team for the tasting.”

“By 1989, I had already joined a wine circle founded by wine connoisseur and businessman, Mutle Mogase and friends,” Len says. In 2003, Mutle Mogase founded Epicurean Wines alongside Mbhazima Shilowa, Moss Ngoasheng and Ron Gault.

Len says, “I remember us hosting – in what was a first by wine farmers – a (much younger) Beyers Truter, Jannie Engelbrecht and Jan Boland Coetzee for a historic tasting in Soweto in 1989. I recall Beyers saying they were all intimidated by the experiencing Soweto – at the height of apartheid.”

“The following year, 1990, I visited the Cape Winelands for the first time, together with a small group of Sowetan socialites, courtesy of the Wine Foundation and KWV. Which is how I gravitated towards wine journalism, I wrote an article about our visit in the Sowetan and the Wine Foundation newspaper, Uptown,” Len says.

 Wine journalism only comprised about 10 percent of Len’s work, he largely spent time on mainstream journalism and editing, until he left full-time journalism in 2014. Len enrolled in a digital marketing course in 2017 and founded a website: sowetowinexplorer.com

  1. Career of Highlights

One of Len’s most outstanding wine memories took place on the other side of the world from Soweto, in Reims.

Len says, “we went to Reims in the Champagne region in the late 1990’s where we tasted 100 different bubblies from different houses. I joined Michael Fridjhon on the trip as a reserve judge, together with Neil Pendock and Janine Greenleaf-Walker, to select bubbly which was to be served on the SAA first and business classes.”

He also collaborated with a select group of journalists to create a wine, Amateur, which was to be put up for bidding at the Nederburg Auction.

In addition, he was appointed by the then Minister of Agriculture to serve on the board of trustees of the SA Wine Industry in 1999.

  1. Wine Revolution

“There is a wine revolution that has been quietly taking place in Johannesburg in the past decade. You see it at the wine shows, young people, especially women have taken to wine like ducks to water,” Len says.

“The advent of our democracy saw a steady shift among the black middle class towards whisky and wine. The future looks bright for the local wine industry, if they can gear their marketing resources to nourish this phenomenal change in demographics. Back in the 1980’s, I battled to find a bottle of wine at many shebeens, I had to carry a few bottles of wine in the car!” Len says.

  1. Community

Len says, “the township wine community is gregarious! They’re very street-wise and perpetually on the lookout for new wines to try, if only to later brag to their friends,” Len says.

  1. Len’s Must Visits-for-Visitors to Johannesburg
  • Just Badela in Orlando West
  • Eyethu Lifestyle Centre, Mofolo Village
  • Sakhumzi, Vilakazi Street, Orlando West
  1. Len’s Joburg Wine Gems
  • Sandeck, Sandton Sun Hotel
  • Katzy’s @ Rosebank Grillhouse
  • La Petite Maison, Melville
  1. Johannesburg as a bottle of wine

“The Meerlust Rubicon is no doubt Johannesburg undisputed cult wine,” Len imparts.

Image caption: The San Deck at the Sandton Sun, Johannesburg

- Blog by: Tshepang Molisana