Moira Henkel’s life story is the stuff movies are made of. When Saffa Mag interviewed the driving force behind Fumana International Wine Imports, we got so much more than a story of business success and perseverance. It was a moving tale of how she turned adversity into opportunity.
Adopted at only three days old, by John and Winnifred Parenzee, Moira’s story starts in Kensington, Cape Town, in a loving home guided by Godly principles. “I was raised conservatively; we never had a lot of money, but we were so happy and surrounded by family. I was an only child, and my cousins were like my sisters,” Moira says from her office in Atlanta.
Some time in Grade One a school friend, after having some words, told her that she was adopted, but at that age she hardly knew what it meant and didn’t take much notice.
Her daddy’s death, when she was five years old, was a tough time for Moira. “I loved my dad, and we were cut from the same cloth. He was in the transport business and my exposure to his life during early childhood days would later influence my career choices.”
Mom Winnifred had to go out and find work and a few years of financial hardship followed. Moira met her best friend, Estelle when she was ten years old.
“We were similar in almost every way notwithstanding that she came from wealth with her dad being a school principal. We shared our secrets and could talk about anything, and although there was an eighteen-month gap between us, we were thick as thieves.”
Her school years and teen years were happy, and Moira says her mother’s sister, Aunt Bokkie, played a very supportive role in her life. ”She was like a second mother to me. Aunt Bokkie used to take in orphans to spend holidays with us.”
One day during an incident her aunt had to discipline one of the visiting girls and Moira then told the girl that “I was also told that I was adopted” which her aunt overheard. Soon after her mom and aunt sat her down and confirmed that it was indeed true. “They said they wanted to protect me, and it was why they never told me. I was devastated and resented my birth mother. When I told Estelle she shared with me that she was also adopted. We had another thing in common.”
Moira met her husband Kevin in her early twenties, got married and decided to move to Australia. There was a hiccough though, as Moira had to submit her original birth certificate to complete the application. During this time Moira shared her battle with Estelle and suddenly she was on the bandwagon. Estelle was on a mission, she wanted to find her birth mother and Moira wanted access to her birth papers.
“Estelle was the first to secure a meeting with an agency and once she had the interview, couldn’t wait to share all the information with me. She now had the names of her birth parents and wanted to find them. I was having a bit more trouble securing information and the Human Resources department at work offered to help me set up an appointment at the adoption agency.”
Moira recalls the day as follows: “I sat down, and the woman opened my file. When she told me the names of my birth parents, I said to her ‘I’ve recently heard those names.’ Has anyone else come to the office recently who had the same birth parents?” The woman went to a filing cabinet, brought another file and there it was: “Yes, two weeks ago there was a young woman who had the same parents. She would be your sister.”
At that moment, a million thoughts ran through her head as it was clear, Estelle was her sister. “God works in His own way. I look at my life and know there can be no doubt about His existence,” says Moira. How wonderful was it that her best friend was, in fact, her sister! So many people in the past used to comment that they were such good friends, they almost looked like sisters and now it was true.
Moira went back to her office and picked up the phone to call Estelle. “She knew I went to the agency that day and immediately wanted to know who my parents were. At first, she dismissed the news as a joke. But then it sank in and for a long time she was extremely emotional. She took it hard.”
The experience proved to be a critical point in her journey: “I never made it to Australia, but had it not been for the application requirement, Estelle and I would have never known we were sisters. “In 2003 we decided to move to the United States and my son Kenrich received a scholarship in Columbus, Ohio. I was a managing director for a travel, tourism and investment company and life was good, with trade missions between SA and the US taking place.” With her background in logistics and computer systems, and running centralised warehouses, Moira saw a gap in the market and founded Fumana International in 2002.
Opportunity to spread her wings came in 2017 and she ventured into the wine industry after an American distributor asked her whether she was able to import a great chardonnay from the South African winelands.
The Heldercrest Chardonnay came to mind and the rest is history. Soon her daughter Gretchen became part of the Fumana family and the intricate process of licensing imports to the USA kicked-off.
Today Fumana International Wine Imports has a warehouse in Atlanta from where distribution takes place. “We now cover nine states and can sell directly to consumers across America.
I’ve taken a controlled growth approach and have strict guidelines addressing with whom we engage in business. We only deal with farms where we are sure they treat their employees with respect and follow good practices.
I am vocal and don’t hold back,” she says with conviction. Her son Kenrich lives in Dubai and is also part of the business. “I am grateful for the many opportunities on my way and all I want is our customers to drink the wine that they love. Then I’m happy.”