There are around 546 wine producers in SA – and many of them are headed by talented women who are making a mark on the global industry.
While there are an increasing number of female winemakers in the South African industry, it’d be a disservice to the powerful influence of women on the country’s wines, to say that it’s a recent phenomenon.
Warwick’s Norma Ratcliffe was one of the first women to make wine in South Africa, after moving here from Canada in 1964. Self-taught, Norma produced 6 barrels of wine in their first year – and Warwick Estate has never looked back. Over the last 30+ years, Norma has racked up a number of firsts, including being the first woman to become a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild and the only woman to serve as its Chairperson. She also launched the first a Cabernet Franc in the country and developed the first Cape Blend. Now an honorary Life Member of the Cape Winemakers’ Guild, she has overseen the Guild’s protégé program, which develops new winemakers from previously-disadvantaged backgrounds – as well as keeping an eye on the goings-on in the Warwick cellar. Norma has paved the way for many more women in wine – including current Assistant Winemaker Carami van der Merwe.
Leading the modern female winemakers’ charge from the front is Ntsiki Biyela, recognised as the country’s first black female winemaker – and now an international force with her own label, Aslina Wines. After being awarded a scholarship to study winemaking in 1999 at Stellenbosch University, she joined Stellekaya Wines in 2004, where she spent 13 years and saw her 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon won her the title of SA Woman Winemaker of the Year. In 2013, she produced the first wines under her own label, Aslina – named for her grandmother, to whom she attributes most of the inspiration and vision which carried her to this point – before going solo in 2016. While that first vintage produced just 1 000 bottles, Aslina now produces 12 000 bottles, with the range comprising four red and white wines.
There are scores of other women playing pivotal roles in the South African wine industry, including Andrea Mullineux of Mullineux Family Wines, who was named Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 Winemaker of the Year as part of its annual Wine Star Awards; Izele van Blerk at KWV, who is responsible for the flagship The Mentors range and who recently celebrated her 11th harvest; Nadia Barnard at Waterkloof Wines; Erika Obermeyer, who oversees MCC and wine production at Graham Beck and Rianie Strydom at Haskell Vineyards, who created the award-winning Dombeya range in 2005. Trizanne Barnard has her own Signature label out on the Cape Peninsula; American-born Samantha O’Keefe makes great wines at Lismore Estate Vineyards in Greyton; Carmen Stevens is at Amani Vineyards; and Jolandi Fouche (Kloovenburg); Irene Waller (La Bri); Nina-Mari Bruwer at Mont Blois; and Vergenoegd’s Marlize Jacobs – and the list goes on.
Written by Trevor Crighton