Thato Montse with wine brand on the set of Real Housewives of Cape Town. Photo Supplied/

Thato Montse loves good wine, so much so that she started her own wine brand. Through Thato Wines, she wishes not only to cater to an untapped market but also wants to showcase her heritage.

By Nicole Ludolph

Thato Montse is one of the Real Housewives of Cape Town heading to our television screens this July, where she says we will be seeing much more of her wine brand and indeed other aspects of her life.
A marketer by profession, Montse had some experience working on alcohol brands before she started Thato Wines. “I studied brand communication and did my diploma at Vega School. I [then] did my postgraduate in design thinking and brand innovation, and from there I went to work in advertising, where I worked on the Savannah brand and also on Amarula.”

The start of an amazing journey
It was at this time, during her tenure at a prominent advertising agency, that she was approached by a wine brand to do their digital marketing. Montse says that this campaign is what placed her in the direction of starting her wine brand.
“[Their] objective was clearly to make sales. And I [said] ‘no, those are not smart objectives’. So, I ended up rebranding and repositioning that brand and I realised that the wine industry is predominantly old, white, [and] predominantly male.”
Montse says she found that the wine brands in the country were very, very conservative, and it occurred to her that she should actually just start her own brand.
“I saw a gap in the market, and I went and registered at University of Stellenbosch. I did a garagiste wine-making course, and from there, I went to the Cape Wine Academy, [where] I studied winemaking.”

A reflection of culture and heritage
Montse has always been a wine lover, and says one of her favourite aspects of consuming wine, in general, is the sense of sophistication around it. She says she had never intended to have her own wine brand, but after working on the wine campaign, fell in love with the process.
“Owning [a wine brand] that is mine wasn’t at the back of my mind, but then after doing research, and after rebranding and repositioning that [other] brand, I saw a gap in the market. I fell in love with it, [and asked myself] ‘why am I doing a strategy for other people? Why can’t I do strategy for myself?’”
Originally from Lesotho, Montse is big on authenticity. When she started her own brand, she really wanted it to be a reflection of her culture and her heritage.
“I really wanted a brand that tells my story and that resonates with our target market on a human-centric [level]. I wanted a brand that can embrace my own culture, traditions, and heritage, as well as tell an authentic story.”
This is why she is so invested in every part of the process. She says she has tapped into her target markets and is keen on giving them what they desire.
“I’m involved, from picking the grapes to harvesting time. I know the varietals; I know my target market, [which] is the middle emerging market and also the affluent, aspirational, and the elite market. I know the palate that [these demographics] want and what motivates them. No stone is left unturned and I work hand-in-hand with the winemakers.”

A woman in the wine industry
For Montse, putting together a wine brand has not been an easy journey. She says sometimes wine consumers are reluctant to buy an obviously black brand.
“There is no transformation and we are battling because, in terms of our target market, if [people] hear it’s called Thato Wines, they don’t want to support you.’
Montse says the industry is highly competitive and capital-heavy, and people are not willing to share their knowledge, making it even harder to crack.
“I think the best investment was for me to study winemaking, and to align myself with other wine farms. Also, the wine industry is very capital intensive, so not everybody can invest in it.”

Africa in a bottle
Still, Montse feels positive about the future of her brand. She explains that the international market is currently her core market but is aiming to change that. “I’m all about pushing the envelope and making the impossible possible. I knew this was mine and that God will make a way.” Ultimately, Montse is determined to achieve her goals and do what she has set out to do. For her, owning a wine brand is much more than just sales. “My brand is telling the Basotho story. Thato Wines celebrates my culture and embraces my heritage. It’s Africa in a bottle.” –

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