Stellekaya winemaker brings Zulu touch to the industry

Thursday, 20 May, 2004
Emile Joubert
'Personal contact allows us to fulfill our commitment to quality'
The red, dusty landscape of Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal is a far cry from the rolling vineyards of Stellenbosch, but Ntsiki Biyela, assistant winemaker at Stellekaya Winery will not change the winelands for any place in the world. ‘Wine has become my passion,’ says Biyela. ‘If I am not in the cellar or in the vineyards I am tasting, because you can never know enough about this fascinating subject.’

Biyela’s journey to becoming only the country’s second black woman winemaker began at high school when she was recruited by wine consultant Jabulani Ntshangase, who was looking for talented young black people to enter the industry. In 1999, just after beginning her studies at the University of Stellenbosch for a BSc in Agriculture specializing in Viticulture and Oenology, Biyela obtained a bursary from South African Airways. During her student days she did various practical stints at the well-known Delheim Winery, and began working at Stellekaya in 2004 after graduating from university last year.

‘Working for Stellekaya has allowed me to delve in my passion for red wines as we only work with red cultivars,’ says Biyela. ‘It is wonderful working for a cellar concentrating on small volumes made from specially selected grapes. Cold soaking and maceration, as well as working with open fermenters gives the winemaker personal contact with the wines. I believe this personal contact, as well as the quality control Stellekaya employs during grape selection, allows us to fulfill our commitment to quality.’

Personally Biyela likes fruity red wines that do not show excessive wood. ‘It is difficult to pick out any specific cultivar at this stage of my short career, but I really love cabernet sauvignon.’

When not making wine, she likes going out with her friends – always with a bottle or two of Stellekaya wine. ‘If I am at a restaurant and I see a stranger’s glass is empty, I’ll fill it with Stellekaya. We have sold quite a lot of bottles this way through follow-up enquiries!’

Under the watchful eyes of Stellekaya winemaker Peet le Roux, Biyela is involved in all stages of the winemaking process. ‘It is only my first year in winemaking, but I already know that it is a profession where you learn something new each day.’

She describes the harvest season as the most exciting time in the cellar. ‘There is so much going on; you really have to manage your time and your duties well. And harvesting is also the most challenging time, because you only have one chance to get it right.’

Dave Lello, owner of Stellekaya, says that Biyela’s passion and eagerness to learn led to her appointment. ‘Ntsiki comes from an area about as far removed from the winelands as you can imagine,’ he says. ‘Being in this new terrain, she has a fresh approach and passion that we just could not ignore. Her first wines are currently maturing in the barrel, and I am sure they are going to go just as far as this talented young woman is.’

Stellekaya recently launched its 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines with a new label.

Issued by: Emile Joubert