South Africa’s booming wine industry
“What is wine? Is it a cider or something? I hated the first sip.”
That was Ntsiki Biyela’s first reaction after she won a scholarship to study winemaking in 1998.
Now she is an international award winning vintner and resident winemaker at the Stellekaya winery in Stellenbosch — east of Cape Town, South Africa.
She’s also the country’s first black female winemaker in an industry dominated by white men.
“I’m surrounded by men that are supportive, but in general it is a struggle because you must do twice as much to prove yourself,” she told CNNMoney.
Her wine is sold worldwide but her principal market is the United States. And she has plans to start her own brand later this year.
Biyela’s life started in 1978 in a small village in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, where the only alcohol she encountered was home brewed beer.
As a black South African, Biyela endured discrimination and oppression under the brutal apartheid regime.
Driven by an urge to create a better life for herself, she began searching for opportunities outside of her village.
“I wanted to do chemical engineering but I could not due to the financial situation,” she said.
Soon after apartheid was abolished in 1994, South African Airways began offering wine making scholarships as part of a program to help transform the country’s economy. Biyela jumped at the chance.
“There was an opportunity to study, and become something,” she told CNNMoney.
So she left her village and family to pursue a career in creating something she had never tasted.
In Stellenbosch University, Biyela not only had everything to learn about wine but she needed to study in a language synonymous with oppression, Afrikaans.
“It was difficult. I didn’t understand Afrikaans but I had no choice,'” she said.
Graduating was just step one. Biyela still needed to find work in an industry which wasn’t exactly welcoming to a black South African woman.
She had been turned away three times before she landed a job at what she calls the “modern” Stellekaya. And she immediately found success. Her first crop in 2004 produced an award winning wine.
It was a bottle of that very vintage that Biyela took back to her home village.
During the trip, her grandmother Aslina tasted wine for the very first time. Her response? “It’s nice.”
Biyela is currently preparing to launch a new wine as an independent wine maker. She will be leaving Stellekaya and will buy grapes from farmers because she can’t afford her own vineyards just yet.
But she already has a name for the brand: Aslina.