Ntsiki Biyela is a force to be reckoned with. She is more than just another highly talented winemaker. As South Africa’s first Black female winemaker, she is also a pioneer who continues to be inspired and to inspire others.
South African Airways, in an effort to encourage new and diverse talent in the wine industry, sponsored scholarships in viticulture and oenology. In 1998, having never tasted wine, Biyela was awarded this winemaking scholarship. In fact, studying at the University of Stellenbosch was the first time she left the eastern province of KwaZulu Natal. After graduation, a boutique winery in Stellenbosch, Stellekaya, hired her as its winemaker.
Her first red blend won a gold medal at the country’s prestigious Michelangelo awards. Recognized for her talent, Biyela was later named South Africa’s Woman Winemaker of the Year in 2009. Her international experience includes serving as visiting winemaker at Petra in Tuscany and spending a vintage in Bordeaux. Biyela’s winemaking style is expressive of the South African terroir, classic and old-world. She uses pigeage-method and French barriques, and she specializes in fine red wines.
I recently got to try one of her blends, Hercules 2011. It is 100 percent Sangiovese and is environmentally sustainable (vegan, minimal use of pesticides) and socially responsible (fair living wages). With notes of red fruits and dried cherry tomatoes, this dry wine pairs well with rich vegetable dishes and meats. Perfect for the holiday table.
Biyela continues to pay it forward and move forward. She is a board member of the Pinotage Youth Development Academy, an organization that provides technical wine training and life skills development to unemployed South African youth. Her next project is working with Napa Valley’s Helen Keplinger on the Wine for the World Collaboration to produce excellent blends that reflect the beauty of South Africa and the spirit of collaboration.