Out of Africa with Simone Musgrave
Following the decision to broaden our Wine Society’s offering to include spirits, I set my sights on tracking down one of the local artisanal gin producers driving South Africa’s craft spirit revolution.
A few pointed enquiries led me to a property tucked away high on the mountain overlooking the Hout Bay Valley. Here, at the headquarters of Musgrave Gin, Simone Musgrave, founder and dynamo, awaited…
What immediately struck me was how different this felt to all my prior engagements with winemakers over the past 20 years. In place of the laid back and down to earth energy I’ve become so accustomed to, Simone exuded an intensity and focus as distilled and potent as the spirits she loves.
Wasting no time on small talk, Simone explains, “After years in corporate, I started to take charge of my own destiny and look for opportunities that resonated with me. The gin trend was not at a developed stage yet, but was close to exploding, and with a brand story that really fitted the category, I jumped on the opportunity to develop the Musgrave brand. It’s something I had wanted to do for a long time.”
Astute and savvy with a strong background in brand building, together with a great authentic story, Simone identified a clear point of difference by creating a pink gin. She then partnered with one of the best producers and succeeded in launching Musgrave Gin in breakneck speed.
The next three hours slip by quickly as we sip gin, eat sushi and talk about the inspiration behind Simone’s gin. Her grandfather, Maurice Boon Musgrave, was an intrepid missionary from Plymouth who left Europe in 1949 to start a new life exploring and discovering the people and land of Africa. Although a teetotaler himself, Musgrave Gin is born out of the courage, flavours and history of his journey, paying tribute to the ancient African spice route in every sip.
Any interesting anecdotes? African Ginger, one of our top notes and botanicals in both of our gins, is used by traditional healers as a symbol of power and peace in Xhosa culture.
Your personal philosophy? That’s a big question! I try to treat everyone with respect, to contribute, build and commit to Africa. To live a balanced life and get into nature and up a mountain as much as possible.
What do you regard as the main secrets behind Musgrave Gin’s success?Blindly believing in your product idea, making sure that you are ahead of a trend and always pushing the boundaries. You need to be super brave.
Your perfect serve? I love a dirty Musgrave Martini or a classic all-weather Musgrave Pink Gin with thyme, pink peppercorns and splash of soda and tonic.
What are some of the challenges for South African gin producers? The distribution is the hardest part to get right and correctly judging the size of the market too. There are so many gins launched now that a rationalisation is bound to happen at some stage, especially as the bigger companies start to trade in the craft sector.
Your favourite gin? Of course, Musgrave is my favourite but when not drinking that, I like Hope’s Mediterranean and Clemengold gins, and of the internationals, Monkey 47 is top of my list.
Is there something that makes South African gins special? South Africa offers a whole new set of botanicals to the world that do not exist anywhere else. The fynbos plant kingdom is endless, and the traditional plants used by traditional healers (such as the African Ginger we use) are unique to Africa and South Africa.
What can you just not do without in your life? Time to climb mountains, my friends and my daughters.
What is your ultimate aspiration for your brand? I would love for Musgrave to become a global luxury, drawing on its rich history born in Africa.
This article was written by Wade Bales and first appeared in Wanted Online