Tembela first came on our radar in 2019 by way of Reenen Borman of Boschkloof. Being the loveable guy that he is (and accurately representing how supportive South African winemakers are of each other), Reenen heard of the new kid on the block and immediately bought a few cases of his wines. Impressed, Reenen shot an and impeccably timed email to us, enthusing in that loveable Reenen way about this guy named Banele of Tembela Wines.
Fast forward 2 weeks, and we’re down in Cape Town on a trip we had planned for months. It was the trip of all trips, taking us from Paternoster to Swartland to Elim. Before returning our white rental car that had become various shades of brown from all the dust and dirt, we decided to trust the good judgment of our friend, Reenen, and give Banele a call. We rolled into the urban winery of Savage Wines where he was working (and still works) in Salt River, and found a cheerful but unassuming character.
The story that we heard that day of Banele is remarkable. He grew up in a small township outside of Cape Town called Khayelitsha, which is one of the top five largest slums in the world. During his childhood, Banele earned a scholarship to go to a good high school in Constantia, and despite his best efforts, he was the “naughty” class clown. It’s not hard to imagine; he’s the kind of guy who grins from ear to ear and has infectious charisma. During class when he couldn’t bring himself to pay attention, he would stare out the window, where, across the street, was a large vineyard. And that’s how it unfolded; the beginning of his winemaking journey was born from a mid-lecture daydream.
In 2011, Banele enrolled at Elsenburg Agricultural College, where he earned a degree in viticulture and oenology. After graduating, he spent three years as a member of the Cape Winemaker’s Guild Protégé programme. As part of that training, he interned at Ernie Else, Groot Constantia, and Savage Wines. He also learned about biodynamics at Troon Vineyards in Oregon and spent time at Domaine Chevrot in Burgundy and Sunshine Creek in the Yarra Valley of Australia.
Back in South Africa, Banele became the assistant winemaker under Duncan Savage at Savage Wines and uses this urban winery to make wines under his own Tembela brand today. Banele was drawn to Duncan because of his ethos in the cellar, characterized by spontaneous fermentation, minimal intervention, and strong attention to detail. Tenets that come in threes are familiar to Banele; Tembela is isiXhosa for ‘faith’, ‘hope’ and ‘belief’. It is also the name of his late mother, whose memory Banele honors with these wines. Banele embodies the unassuming and friendly spirit that is so common among South Africa’s most prominent winemakers; his journey is just beginning, but big things are brewing for Banele. As the tech bros like to say, watch this space.