Women, wine and whingers

Ntsiki in untraditional wine-making garb.
Ntsiki in untraditional wine-making garb.

The subject of a Woman Winemaker Competition provides annual amusement in wine circles. Just as soon as the competition is announced, certain commentators berate the fact that such a competition exists. Sexist and chauvinist are two of the labels plastered to the event, implying that there is no need to distinguish between a winemaker who has a set of hooters and one with brass balls.
The moaners, usually hairy-armpitted dykes, ugly housewife bloggers or over-critical queens, never tend to look at competitions like SA Businesswomen of the Year or the International Woman Winemaker of the Year. No, because it is held in our backyard it is deemed irrelevant and divisive.
“Get a life!” one wants so say. The Woman Winemaker Competition is little more than a bit of much needed marketing for those involved in the industry. It does a sterling job in drawing attention to the fact that the wine industry is – more than any other agricultural pursuit in South Africa – frequented by an array of sassy women, including quite a few babes.
The competition also draws attention to the respective entrants’ enduring passion for wine, something that always needs punting.
Take this year’s winner, Ntsiki Biyela from Stellekaya.
From clay hut in Ulundi without running water to top-notch Stellenbosch winemaker. I would like to see another wine industry that can deliver someone with this pedigree.

Okay, now to Nicolette’s media release:
Ntsiki Biyela form Stellekaya in Stellenbosch was crowned SA Woman Winemaker of the Year in Somerset West at the Lord Charles Hotel last week., 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 Kwa-Zulu Natal., She matriculated from Mahlabathini High School in 1996 where she excelled in science., She had high hopes to study engineering, but had no money to study full time., Not detoured 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, and he assisted Ntsiki to apply for a SAA scholarship, and she 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 knew 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 exact 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 and 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.”
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, 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.”

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2 thoughts on “Women, wine and whingers

  1. Well said Emile! There are lots of competitions in broader industry that allow women to gain recognition and no one else complains!

    I am very happy for Ntsiki and my friends the Lello’s at Stellakaya – well done!! It is a wonderful showcase and creates great marketing & development opportunities.

    I note some bloggers and journalists that have been very focal about this competition in the past (including when our Vrede en Lust winemaker, Susan Erasmus nee Wessels, won this competition in 2007) are very silent on the 2009 results.

    Maybe they are a bit cautious seeing that Ntsiki is a black woman? Not sure how to deal with the PC issues ??

    As an industry we really need to move past a lot of the petty bullshit, celebrate success and focus on the real competition – beer, hard tack, ready-to-drinks and wine from other countries.

    Congratulations Ntsiki – make the best of this award and the year ahead while making more great wine!

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