It is almost three decades since Carmen Stevens, the first black person and ipso facto, the first black woman, graduated as a winemaker in South Africa. Today, she owns her own successful brand and her own winery – the first 100% black-owned winery in the country. Carmen has won many accolades, among them Naked Wines UK Winemaker of the Decade in 2019 and the wine industry’s 1659 Visionary Leadership award in 2022. After 27 years of winemaking experience, Carmen says she can confidently experiment, making the wines she wants to make. ‘I’m happy as long as the people who drink my wines, enjoy them.’ Her 2019 Carménère was given a 91-point rating by Tim Atkin, and her Sauvignon Blanc is festooned with award stickers.
In 2003, Ntsiki Biyela graduated from the University of Stellenbosch – a huge achievement for a Zulu woman who spoke no Afrikaans and grew up in rural Kwa-Zulu where there was no wine culture. After working as the winemaker for Stellakaya winery, and taking part in harvests in Tuscany and Bordeaux, Ntsiki started her own brand, Aslina in 2016. The range consists of a Bordeaux blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc. Ntsiki has recently added a skin-contact Chenin Blanc and an MCC (Méthode Cap Classique) and her wines are exported across the globe.
For a long time, it seemed there were only these two – Carmen and Ntsiki. They were the trailblazers, but few were following in their footsteps. ‘It takes a certain calibre of person to make it happen,’ says Carmen, ‘you still need a thick skin. Prejudice is no longer in your face, but it is still there.’ However, times are changing and a growing group of young and ambitious black women are breaking through barriers on their own terms and earning the respect of colleagues and consumers.
Praisy Dlamini graduated in oenology and viticulture from Elsenburg in 2007 and today she is the general manager and winemaker at Adama Wines, a company that is majority black owned and run entirely by woman of colour. Adama Wines has a new wine brand celebrating black women, which is launching in Waitrose and other UK retailers in September this year. Praisy agrees with Carmen that it isn’t easy for black women, who must be really driven to succeed, but her response has been to grab every possible opportunity with both hands. Her goals are not awards, but rather making an impact, building unity and sustainability in farming communities and inspiring young people.
In July this year, at the prestigious Trophy Wine Show, young winemaker Kiara Scott scooped the Trophy for Best Old Vine Wine for her Brookdale Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard 2020. Kiara certainly doesn’t believe anything has limited her progress: ‘I haven’t allowed anything to hold me back. On the contrary, I have had great support in the wine industry.’ She relishes the fact that at Brookdale she has been allowed to do things her way and that her wines are winning awards. Kiara’s ambition is to be international winemaker of the year. She looks forward to women in wine no longer being newsworthy and an industry that is as diverse and inclusive as the wines it creates.
Nongcebo Langa has recently been promoted to winemaker at Delheim, one of Stellenbosch’s premium wineries. She has an MSc in oenology and a sparkly personality that wins everyone over. ‘I have been fortunate in that I have had many people guiding me, offering support and encouragement along my wine journey so that my career has progressed positively. I am forever grateful to those individuals.’ Nongcebo is excited by being entrusted to make wines at the award-winning estate and feels it signifies great things to come. Her ultimate career goal is ‘Greatness. Not only do I want to make award winning wines, I want to make such an impact in the wine industry that it is felt by the next generations.’
Two dynamic women are making exciting wines from grapes grown in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Natasha Williams is winemaker at Bosman Family Vineyards and has her own wine brand, called Lelie van Saron. Berene Sauls has just acquired land in the region to plant vineyards for her successful brand, Tesselaarsdal.
Many of today’s young winemakers owe their success, at least in part, to the Cape Wine Makers Guild (CWG) Protégé Programme, which identifies talented oenology students and places them in an internship programme which sees them spend three one-year stints working in the cellars with South Africa’s top winemakers. Of the 42 students who have completed, or are still in, the programme, 18 have been women of colour. Praisy and Kiara are both CWG Protégé graduates. Other notable CWG Protégé graduates are: Rose Kruger, making wine at Stellakaya; Tammy Jephta, winemaker at Adam Tas; Gynore Fredericks, who makes wine with Andrea Mullineux and is responsible for the Great Heart wine brand; and Mahalia Matshte, making wine at Lievland and owning her own brand, Three Quarters.
These young women are changing the South African wine paradigm for all time.
Su Birch is a distinguished international marketer. As CEO of Wines of South Africa, she received the Drinks Business Woman of the Year award. She runs her own marketing business and is the editor of the Jack Journal.