As a girl Ntsiki Biyela looked after cows near her village of Mahlabathini in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Today she is the country’s first black, female winemaker who exports to America, Germany, the Netherlands, Taiwan and Ghana.
A remarkable achievement in itself — there are less than 10 professional black winemakers in South Africa today — but one made even more impressive by the fact that she only got to taste wine for the first time as a student.
“Truth be told, I initially disliked the taste,” recalls Biyela, who first came to Stellenbosch in 1999 to pursue a BSc in oenology and viticulture.
“But of course, as my studies progressed and I was able to submerge myself more in wine and wine culture, I learned to appreciate both the product and the craft behind it.”
Acknowledging the passion and the chemistry that go into making a great bottle of wine, she explains that it is this duality that continues to draw her to the industry.
“When physically making wine, you need to understand the microbiology and chemical processes that go into it.
“Simultaneously, there is an artistic element as well through the blending and/or eventual tasting process.”
It is a delicate combination that this former SA Woman Winemaker of the Year has fine- tuned over time, first as winemaker for boutique wine producer Stellekaya — a position she held for 13 years — and now as owner of Aslina Wines (www.aslinawines.co.za).
Founded in 2017, the company is named after Biyela’s late grandmother, and produces four signature brands. Its aim is to produce around 18 000 bottles by the end of this year.
“For me, wine tasting revolves around memories. Either it triggers a mental image from your childhood, or help create new ones for the future.
“One of my favourite responses to my wine was when someone told me that tasting it evokes an image of an elegant woman wearing an opulent ball gown.”
In addition to producing award-winning wines, Biyela remains committed to the social and economic upliftment of those previously shut out of the agriculture and wine industry.
“I serve on the board for the Pinotage Youth Development Academy, an organisation that teaches personal skills and provides technical training for young people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.”
- By Steyn du Toit -