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Woman Winemaker of the Year – Ntsiki Biyela from Stellenbosch

Ntsiki Biyela form Stellekaya in Stellenbosch has been crowned SA Woman Winemaker of the Year 2009. 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. After the top wines are selected through a blind tasting, a choice panel of judges interviewed the six finalists. The winner is judged according to her overall personality, her view of the wine industry and her career goals.

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 wine enjoyment across cultures and language Zulu, English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, and is determined to spread the magic of

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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