Ntsiki Biyela from Stellekaya wins South African Woman Winemaker of the Year

Ntsiki Biyela, winemaker at Stellekaya in Stellenbosch was crowned South Afrifcan Woman Winemaker of the Year 2009 in Somerset West at the Lord Charles Hotel on Thursday 30th of July.
Ntsiki beat 64 wine entries from 28 woman winemakers across South Africa in this year's competition, which is sponsored by Landbouweekblad, the country's leading agriculture and agri-business publication. The competition took place for the sixth time this year.

Nontsikelelo, or Ntsiki as she is fondly known, was born and raised in the rural village of Ulundi in Kwa-Zulu Natal. She matriculated from Mahlabathini High School in 1996 where she excelled in science. Ntsiki had high hopes to study engineering, but did not have the funding for full-timne study. Not deterred and determined to save money to pay for her studies, she started off working as a domestic worker. Coincidently her uncle introduced her to winemaker Jabulani Ntshangase, who assisted Ntsiki in applying for an SAA scholarship. Ntsiki was chosen as one of ten black students to pursue a bursary program to study winemaking at Stellenbosch.

In 2003 Ntsiki graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture, specialising in Viticulture and Oenology, at the University of Stellenbosch. Ntsiki started working at Stellekaya in 2004, and also boasts a vintage in Bordeaux, as well as extensive travels abroad for wine promotions. She is fluent in Zulu, English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, and is determined to spread the magic of wine enjoyment across cultures and language barriers.

Ntsiki wowed the judges with her 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. When asked when she realized that winemaking was her career of choice, she said: "I grew up in Zululand, so wine was not exactly part of my culture. Studying at Stellenbosch, and being exposed to wine regularly, I could not help falling in love with wine and the winemaking process. It all started to make sense to me when I did some practical work, including tastings at Delheim. I then just knew that I was hooked. Although a technical career, winemaking has an artistic side. I could never become bored of it, every vintage is different."

Besides making the wine at Stellekaya, Ntsiki is also responsible for selecting individual vineyards and growers in Stellenbosch and ensures that each grower crops and hand picks the grapes to her exacting standards. "Being involved from the beginning, and selecting the perfect grapes for a particular wine, deciding on oak treatment and all the other elements to ensure we create a product worthy of the Stellekaya brand, forces me to think of every wine that I make as one of my children. It is my job to raise and guide that child, before I can let it go out to conquer the world."

As one of the first black woman winemakers in South Africa, I want to be remembered for my wines and not me as a person, but I do not mind being a role model for other people. I want to communicate that with hard work and determination you can achieve anything."
  • Besides Biyela, the five finalists for this year's South African Woman Winemaker of the Year were: (in alphabetical order) Corlea Fourie from Bosman Family Vineyards in Wellington, who impressed with her 2008 Chenin Blanc, made from 56 year old bush vine
  • Carmen Stevens from Amani Vineyards in Stellenbosch who made the top six with her 2008 Amani Kamili Chardonnay/Viognier blend
  • Corrien Geleijnse of Swartland Wine Cellar in Malmesbury with her 2008 Shiraz
  • Nomonde Kubheka of KWV in Paarl with her 2007 red blend named Triptych and
  • Danelle van Rensburg from Van Loveren Vineyards in Robertson who made the line-up with her 2009 Colombar.
Besides judging the quality of their wines, the judges also subjected each of the six finalists to a personal interview to gain insight into the winemakers' long-term objectives, winemaking philosophy and their views on the industry.

According to Marilyn Cooper, head of the Cape Wine Academy and president of the judging panel, Ntsiki sparkled. "Not only did she impress us with her well made Cabernet Sauvignon, but she is confident and passionate about the wine industry, and eager to share her knowledge and passion with others. She's not only an inspiration for future woman winemakers, but anyone who is considering winemaking as a career."

Apart from Cooper, the panel included Erika Obermeyer, last year's winner and winemaker at Graham Beck Wines; Jo-Anne Mettler, wine judge and PRO at L'Ormarins; Cathy Marston, wine writer from the UK and wine consultant Nicolette Waterford.

According to Landbouweekblad, the main sponsor of this event, interest is growing in this competition where an ambassador to the wine industry for the next year is chosen. It now is a highlight on the South African wine calendar.

"The number of entries is growing each year and the competition receives entries from winemakers at large, well-established cellars, as well as smaller cellars from upcoming wine regions," says Lorraine Immelman-Steyn, founder of the competition.

"I am delighted about how this competition has evolved, especially because it shows that women across cultural borders are choosing winemaking as a career. In the current economic climate, I feel any positive publicity where the focus is on wine, is of great advantage when we want to make wine the chosen lifestyle product of the whole of our nation.

"Woman in the wine industry are being acknowledged increasingly throughout the world and I hope this award plays an important role in motivating all women, not only those wanting to enter the wine industry. This just shows that women can embark on any career with success and if they have the necessary perseverance, knowledge and skills the sky is the limit."

These wine ambassadors promote the versatile nature of the wine industry and follow in the footsteps of the Champagne Lanson Woman in Wine Award presented annually at the International Wine and Spirits Fair in London, as well as the Shoprite-Checkers Woman of the Year Award.

Each finalist received a pamper pack from Lanzerac Wellness Centre and Spa, as well as a gift pack - with Spiegelau crystal ware - from Distinctive Brands. A new sponsor came to the party this year and the winning label, as well as the finalists' labels will be sponsored by Collotype Labels RSA, and internationally recognised label printing company based in Australia.

The winner also receives a cash prize of R20,000.