A new generation of black women winemakers is making a mark in local cellars.
South Africa’s wine industry has long had a reputation as something of an old boys’ club, a sector where predominantly Afrikaner men ruled the roost.
But just as land reform in the winelands remains a hot topic, so the need for racial diversity and gender balance in the cellar is being addressed. The upshot? Black women are finally bringing their own unique perspective to the worlds of winemaking and viticulture.
PIONEERS AND ACCIDENTAL WINEMAKERS
Ntsiki Biyela (left) Carmen Stevens (right)
One of the trailblazers was Carmen Stevens, the first black person to graduate as a winemaker from Elsenburg Agricultural College outside Stellenbosch.
After stints in the cellar at Zonnebloem, Welmoed and Amani, her big break came in 2011 when she launched her first own-label wines through innovative UK-based retailer Naked Wines. After generating £120 000 in start-up capital, she’s since gone on to become one of Naked Wines’ best-selling winemakers.
Another woman to watch is Ntsiki Biyela – born and raised in rural KwaZulu-Natal, a scholarship to Stellenbosch University saw her land up in the world of winemaking somewhat by accident.
‘Back then I didn’t even know wine existed,’ says Biyela candidly. ‘Not everybody’s born with a passion for something. It can also develop over time. But as I learnt more about wine along the way, I got more and more excited about the industry.’
After graduating with a BSc in oenology, that excitement saw her get straight to work in the cellars of Stellekaya, crafting Bordeaux-style blends in the Bosman’s Crossing precinct of Stellenbosch. Last year, Biyela launched her own range of wines, a cabernet sauvignon, Bordeaux-style red blend, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay under her own label, Aslina.
‘It’s named after my grandmother, who was always a pillar of strength in my life,’ says Biyela, who also sits on the board of the Pinotage Youth Development Academy, an initiative encouraging black people to enter the wine industry across the value chain, from the vineyard to the cellar to the tasting room.
INDUSTRY STALWARTS MENTORING YOUNG TALENT
Unathi Mantshongo (left) Praisy Dlamini (right)
Another groundbreaking initiative having an impact on local estates is the Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé Programme. Launched in 2006, it offers aspiring winemakers the opportunity to work three-year paid internships alongside members of the guild. To date the programme has placed 21 interns at leading cellars, pairing up-and-coming graduates with some of the most respected winemakers in the industry.
That includes Tamsyn Jeftha, now Assistant Winemaker at Boschendal, and Chandré Petersen, Assistant White Winemaker for Nederburg. Another remarkable graduate is Praisy Dlamini, the first woman to join the Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé Programme.
Currently Assistant Winemaker at Place in the Sun, a Fair Trade-certified wine brand in the Distell portfolio, Dlamini originally hails from Empangeni, a corner of northern KwaZulu-Natal where you’re more likely to be offered umqombothi than an aged cabernet. A scholarship to Elsenburg opened up a world of wine industry opportunity for Dlamini – and helped local cellars become all that more representative of the Rainbow Nation.
SUSTAINABILITY: ‘WE’RE IN A POSITION TO SET A GLOBAL BENCHMARK’
But it’s not only in the cellar that black women are changing the face of the wine industry. Another dynamic young woman making waves in the winelands is Unathi Mantshongo, a qualified viticulturist who spent eight years in the vineyards before taking up her current role as Transformation and Development Officer at the not-for-profit VinPro Foundation.
‘Until the wine industry, like all other formalised sectors in the country, is representative, a lot still needs to be done,’ Mantshongo says. ‘There are several initiatives under way to encourage and support historically disadvantaged people and women in the wine industry.’
Mantshongo spearheads a number of enterprise development and social upliftment projects under the banner of the Wine Industry Strategic Exercise (WISE), a roadmap for the industry’s social and economic growth.
‘South Africa is a phenomenal country,’ says Mantshongo. ‘We’re in a position to set a global benchmark for sustainable [and] inclusive business growth. I see myself as part of a team working to make this possible.’
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