Mathew’s wine journey from Cape Town to Copenhagen
When you think wines of the world, Denmark probably wouldn’t make your top-10 list. So why then you ask would a South African viticulturist move more than 6000 miles from the world-renown wine producing region of Cape Town to cold Copenhagen and peruse a career in the wine industry? Love, he says! And not love for the grape, but a girl. Instead, Mathew Castle says that he came to Denmark as a refugee. “I’m a sexual refugee who was forced to come to Denmark by the allure of a gorgeous Danish woman,” he jokes over a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon on his farm in Humlebæk just outside of Copenhagen. Mathew explains that while it was his love for his now wife Lonnie Castle, that brought him to Denmark, he embarked on the business of wine importing and consultation as a way to keep himself in the industry. Mathew, who refers to himself as a viticulturist (a professional whose business is grapes), founded Mat’s Vineyard with Lonnie at his side in 2010. To pursue his dreams of establishing his own wine brand in Copenhagen, (and to satisfy his sexual urge, of course) Mathew left behind a long career as a viticulturist in Stellenbosch, Cape Town. He is now based in Copenhagen where he imports great quality wine from a few selected wineries in South Africa that are very close to his heart.
Doing it in Denmark
Denmark is not knowing for its great wine production, and according to Mathew the country only has around 60 Danish wine producers, with only a handful producing wine competitively. This unfortunately meant that none were large enough to employ a professional viticulturist. This realisation however did open a new door to Mathew in the niche markets of vineyard consulting and wine importing. Naturally, Mathew turned to his love for South African wines which saw him introducing Danes to great quality South African wines. “Danes don’t really know South African wines, but luckily for me the wines sell themselves,” Mathew says of the wine-producing country consistently ranked in the top 10 of global producers. According to him, South African wines comprise only about five percent of sales in Denmark. “This makes the restaurant trade very difficult. We sell most of our wines through private and corporate arrangements,” Mathew explains.
“There are over 1200 Danish wine importers, so the competition is tough, and all of the big guys trade most of their wines on a discount basis. Our business model is based on honest value for money pricing, and we therefore trade more on the quality of our wines,” Mathew says. All of the wineries that Mathew imports from have a special story. Mathew has either had the pleasure of farming the vineyards, consulted to the farmer or is a personal friend. “This gives us the ability to choose wines that we know, love and can recommend from our hearts.” “I can’t promise you that you will like all of them, but I can promise you that I will be honest in my assessment and comments, and hopefully you will find your own little journey through our wines,” Mathew smiles. South African wines are probably, according to the legendary British master of wine, Jancis Robinson the best value for money wines today. “The industry in South Africa is bursting with young, enthusiastic and incredibly talented people,” Mathew says. It is this enthusiasm which he brings to his business in Denmark.
“I’m a sexual refugee who was forced to come to Denmark by the allure of a gorgeous Danish woman,” he jokes over a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon on his farm in Humlebæk.
An acquired taste
Establishing himself within the industry, and as a business entity in Denmark didn’t come without its challenges. “Back in 2010 I was one of the only self-employed non-European expats. The government didn’t really know how to categorise me in the labour market, but we found a way. I got a work permit on the strength that I was the only viticulturist in the country, and I had the support of a few of the top Danish producers,” explains Mathew. He says that without his experience and active involvement in vineyard consultancy, he would not be able to do business in Denmark. When it came to adjusting to life in Denmark, a far cry from the rolling mountains of the Cape, Mathew admits it wasn’t as easy as he thought it may be. The hardest part he says was adjusting socially, “I must admit I struggled living in Copenhagen. Neighbours in my apartment never greeted each other – it was like living amongst all these people but being alone.” He and Lonnie eventually bought a small farm in Humlebæk. “I needed the open space and physical challenge of farming. My beautiful wife compromised and commutes to the city for work. She loves having the best of both worlds. We have great neighbours, and the local community greet each other (and strangers)! All of a sudden people just pop in for a chat and glass of wine, which is unheard of in the city. After almost a decade in Denmark, Mathew is well adjusted to Danish life and culture, and has a special place in his heart for the tradition of hygge. “I love Danish hygge. Danes are very similar to South African’s in their approach to eating, drinking and partying at home. I just need to teach them to braai (barbeque) properly,” he laughs. Mathew also enjoys the feeling of personal safety. “Kids can be kids. The roads are safer than back in South Africa and the driving less aggressive,” he observes. Mathew hopes that he can introduce more Danes (and the many expats living in Denmark) to the taste of South Africa through its wines. He encourages anyone interested to pop over for a glass of wine. “We are always open for sales and a chat. Our farm is very close to Louisiana and Årstiderne ved Krogerup, so why not make it a cultural day out,” he says.
Building your own business – advice for expats wanting to start their own business.
Mathew made mention of the difficulties he experienced in setting up and running his own business as an expat living in Denmark. Fortunately, with the help of Lonnie, he was able to register a company, but still has had to jump through many hoops to ensure that he complies with government regulation when it comes to running his own business. In Denmark innovation and entrepreneurship are highly encouraged. This means that many people start their own businesses. However, as is evident in Mathew’s experience, this process can be somewhat challenging for expats unaware of the regulation requirements put in place by government. For instance, Nordic or EU/EEA citizens can more easily start their own business in Denmark, however those expats from outside the Nordic, EU/EEA and Switzerland regions have to apply for a residence and work permit in order to be self-employed and/or operate an independent company in Denmark. Mathew attested to this saying that it was much easier for him to get his business up and running once he and Lonnie were married.
Understanding the basics
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, in its Step-by-Step Guide to Opening a Business in Denmark, there are several steps involved in the process. Below is a basic guide that will assist you in getting started:
Decide on the legal entity that fits your business operations. There are several types of company structures in Denmark. It is recommend that foreigners use an “Anpartsselskab” (ApS – meaning a private limited liability company).
Registering your company. All companies must be registered with the Danish Commerce and Companies Agency. For more information on the agency or to register your own company, visit www.virk.dk. This is where those Danish lessons will pay off, as the site is mostly in Danish.
Once you have registered your business you will get a Central Business Registration Number (CVR number). The CVR-number is your business’ identification number which you must use when you correspond with public authorities and private entities, i.e. when issuing invoices etc.
Register with the tax authorities. On completion of the registration process, your company information is sent to the Danish tax authorities (SKAT), as the company must be VAT registered.
Put in place employment contracts. This is a labour-related matter should you be employing others.
Get your paperwork approved. If you require any permits for the running of your business, such as a liquor license etc., be sure that these are in place before you start trading.
If you want to start a business in Denmark, you will need to follow all the Danish rules. It is important that you seek expert advice and do things by the book. Online resources such as Business in Denmark, a public service organisation providing information to foreign service providers from other EU and EEA countries, is a great place to get started. They will guide you on which rules apply to you and your business free of charge.
Start-up Denmark is another great resource, and has in place is a start-up visa scheme for talented entrepreneurs who want to grow high-impact start-ups in Denmark. Accepted applicants get a residence and work permit for Denmark valid for two years plus the possibility of extension. Expats from outside the Nordic, EU and EEA regions can apply for resident and work permits through such schemes as a stepping stone to staring their own business. You can find more information on the different visa schemes and rules at www.newtodenmark.dk.
For more information on Mat’s Vineyard or to get in contact for a private or corporate wine tasting, visit matsvineyard.com or follow the vineyard on Facebook and Instagram, @matsvineyard.
Text: David Nothling-Demmer
Sources: https://www.workindenmark.dk, http://www.investindk.com, https://danishbusinessauthority.dk/, http://www.startupdenmark.info