This week we shine the spotlight on Mags Jango, founder of wine distribution business, MJ Wine Cellars, and look at his career in the wine industry, taking a lead role on promoting diversity and inclusion in the sector and his response to winning the Master of Wine scholarship in the new Golden Vines scholarships initiative for BAME and BIPOC students awarded as part of the Gerard Basset Wine Education Charitable Foundation in partnership with Liquid Icons.
Mags Jango joins Winnie Toh, winner of the Master Sommelier Scholarship in the Golden Vines™ Scholarships initiative, which is part of the Gerard Basset Wine Education Charitable Foundation. You can read what the scholarship means to Winnie Toh in last week’s interview on The Buyer here. Both will receive £12,500 to cover the full costs of tuition, examination and tastings to take part in the two programmes, including the opportunity to take part in exclusive winery visits and study tours. Here’s what the Master of Wine scholarship means for Mags Jango.
Can you tell us about your background and how you got into wine?
Like most in the industry, I fell into wine by accident – after studying maths, chemistry and biology at high school, I took WSET Level 2 and it really was a practical application of all I’d learned.
What sort of jobs have you had to date in the sector and what have you learnt the most from them?
Pretty much everything. I started out as a shop attendant at Waitrose, then I became wine specialist. I did a stint at Majestic Wine’s commercial arm at its head office. I’ve been an on-trade rep, an off-trade rep, even sold to large London corporates.
Why and when did you set up your own wine business MJ Wine Cellars?
MJ Wine Cellars is something I’ve always wanted to do, and always found a way to talk myself out of it, but when the first lock down came, I was put on furlough, which gave me plenty of time to work out the ins-and-outs of how the whole operation would work. We’ve been so blessed to have a few of our wines highly reviewed by Jancis Robinson MW, which gave us a jump start.
What did you hope to be able to offer with your own importer business?
It sounds cliché, but we really do put the customer first. Most importers bring in wine and then take on the task of selling it, we do things the other way round, asking our customers what they’d like to drink, what style of wines they like, the quality, and price points and then set about trying to deliver exactly what they need.
What are the criteria you use to choose a new producer to work with?
We’ve been asked this a lot. What do we specialise in? Good wine at great prices. I’m a thoroughbred sales person, however, I just simply can’t bring myself to sell a wine I don’t love. Even then the wine must pass a second round of staff tasting before it is given the green light. This ensures every winery or label we represent is absolutely adored by the team. It makes for easy selling when that’s the case.
Which channels of the trade do you sell your wine into and what makes you want to work with a customer?
A significant amount of our business is private labels and tertiary brands for supermarkets. Again, coming at it from that angle of, ‘what do you need, at what price, from what region?’ then setting about creating that.
We also do a lot of work supplying independents. I’ve sold wine for long enough to know the criterion for an indie is vastly different from a high street retailer. These differences ensure MJ Wine Cellars always has a buzz about it. On Monday we could be discussing shipping a container of a tertiary brand we created for a multiple retailer and then by Wednesday it’s a road trip to Cheltenham to sell a couple of cases of single vineyard Xynisteri.
What do you see as being the key things you need to get right as a wine supplier?
You live and die by your team. They are the heart and soul of what you do. They’ll make the company or break it. There’s also the usual things like pricing, logistics and having the right wines from the right regions, but I’d argue every wine supplier has that. What has really kept us going, especially during these times, is our awesome team.
Tell us about your wine education and the steps you have taken to get to want to study for the MW?
I studied WSET 2 up to diploma level in super-quick time. I got my level 2 in 2012 and by 2016 I had completed the diploma. I just kept wanting to know more and more every time I took on a qualification. I’m under no illusions as the challenges awaiting me on the MW programme but look forward to engaging with it.
Why did you apply for the scholarship?
This was a wonderful opportunity for me to take my education to the next level and hopefully inspire the next generation of non-white talent coming through. There’s always been this perception that people of colour aren’t interested in wine. I’d say people of colour just don’t know how to get into wine and this an amazing opportunity to break barriers and change perspectives.
How did you find the entry process and the steps you had to go through?
It was quite straightforward, the forms and questionnaire was what you’d expect for such a prestigious scholarship. Then there was the interview process with a few industry leaders and I was then contacted with the good news a few weeks later.
How do you feel know about the opportunity that the scholarship has given you?
It’s a huge opportunity, but with that opportunity also comes expectation. It’s one thing winning the scholarship, now I must go and deliver, and I hope I can make the selection committee proud in due course.
What are you most looking forward to about taking part in the scholarship?
The exposure, meeting and tasting with like-minded and passionate people in the industry, being put through the paces and pushing myself to my limit and a little beyond that. This is what really excites me.
What aspects of wine education and training do you find the most interesting?
My background is maths and sciences, so viticulture, winemaking, the business of wine. Just generally following the grape’s journey from the vine to the press to a bottle and finally a shelf somewhere, it’s such a wholesome and intriguing journey.
What do you find the most challenging?
I think the logistics side of the industry has always been a challenge for me, but running a wine business has really brought me close to it. It’s such a vitally important cog of the wider industry.
What advice would you give to anyone else looking to follow in your footsteps?
It’s going to be hard work, there’s just no escaping that. I have many people reaching out and asking for the recipe. There just isn’t one, it’s a lot of graft and working your way up. However, like I said, I started as a shop assistant, so it’s clearly possible. Passion for the product will get you through the darker days.
Do you see yourself as having an opportunity to be a role leader in the sector?
Not particularly. It isn’t something I go out and actively seek. Of course, people reach out and ask for advice and guidance which I’m all too happy to give. There are countless people who gave me advice and support during my journey -some still do – and so I do love helping out in whatever way I can, but the tag ‘role model’ just isn’t necessary.
The Golden Vines™ Wine Scholar Guild Scholarships
As well as the two Master of Wine and Master Sommelier Scholarships the Golden Vines initiative has also seen 10 Golden Vines™ Wine Scholar Guild Scholarships awarded as part of the The Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships programme. Each of the 10 winners will have the chance to specialise in a country of their choice, by enrolling in one of the Wine Scholar Guild’s advanced French, Spanish or Italian Wine Scholar Certification Programs. Each course is carried out in either “independent study format” or “10-week, instructor-led format”. Details on the courses can be found here.
The 10 winning scholars for the 2021 Golden Vines™ Wine Scholar Guild Scholarships are:
Nikan Jooyani: An Iranian living in Spain (FISAR Certificate holder)
Shalva Khetsuriani: From Georgia
Arlene King: A Jamaican living in the UK (WSET Level 2 Certificate in Wines and Spirits holder)
Olufikayo Ifaturoti: A Nigerian living in the UK (WSET Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits holder)
Oscar Marulanda: From Columbia (WSET Level 3 Award in Wines holder)
Alec Merkt-Caprile: From Canada
Emma Ogiemwanye: A West African living in the USA
Tanmay Rathod: From India (Certified Specialist of Wine from Society of Wine Educators)
Jai Singh: An Indian living in Italy (WSET Level 2 Award in Wines holder & Level 3 student)
Aki Sudo: From Japan (ASI International Diploma holder)
Lewis Chester of Liquid Icons, and trustee of The Gerard Basset Wine Education Charitable Foundation, says of the scholarship winners: “We are delighted that the Wine Scholar Guild have decided to offer these most generous scholarships to BAME/BIPOC wine students chosen by our incredible panel of judges. Our aim is to make the world of wine more diverse and inclusive, and to do this, we need to find and promote a new generation of role models who can attract students from these communities globally to the wine industry. These new scholarships will certainly help in achieving that objective.”
Annabel’s Awards Dinner
The not-for-profit Golden Vines Award Ceremony, Dinner & After-Party will be held at Annabel’s, part of The Birley Clubs, on October 7 2021. It hopes to “recognise the star performers of the fine wine industry and raise funds for The Gerard Basset Wine Education Charitable Foundation with the objective of funding diversity and inclusion-related wine education programmes globally, including the headline Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship, Internship & Mentorship Programmes, which has seen 42 BAME/BIPOC students from 23 different countries apply for two scholarships worth £55,000 each.
The Golden Vines Awards will be awarded to the world’s best fine wine producers as voted by leading members of the global fine wine industry in the Gerard Basset Global Fine Wine Report produced by Liquid Icons. In all 442 leading fine wine professionals from 55 countries votes for The Golden Vines Awards, including 57 Masters of Wine, 31 Master Sommeliers, 197 sommeliers, 133 fine wine merchants, 93 fine wine distributors, 80 members of the fine wine press, 57 fine wine brokers and 15 auction house professionals.
The Oeno Golden Vines Honorary Award was awarded posthumously to wine legend Steven Spurrier at The Macallan Golden Vines Dinner on July 6.