Greg Landman meets the country’s top winemakers
Ntsiki grew up a typical rural youngster in a large extended Zulu family. She modestly denies any particular talent, but realised, when offered the chance to change her life with a bursary from SAA, that she “had to do it – to open doors for the others who would follow.” As difficult as it was, she says one of her proudest moments was graduating in agriculture and oenology at Stellenbosch, with her mother and grandmother present. She travels extensively on business to China, the US, Germany, Belgium, as well as France and Italy, where she has done harvests.
She lives in Somerset West where she entertains a small collection of friends with traditional African cooking and great wine. She says her hobbies are “hiking and eating”– quite an intriguing combination, just as she is.
It’s a long way, not only in distance but in cultures, from the soft green hills of Ulundi to the mountains of Stellenbosch. Ntsiki Biyela, the talented winemaker at Stellekaya, says she was amazed at the height of the mountains as the bus approached Stellenbosch, and the rows of neatly planted ‘small trees’ that she saw stretching as far as the eye could see. Little did she know then but those small trees – grapevines – would become central to her life, leading to her
being named SA Woman Winemaker of the Year 2009.
Stellekaya is a boutique wine company at Bosman’s Crossing, specialising in superb reds, four of which are ranked four stars in the Platter’s Guide, the industry bible. The wines Ntsiki makes are all deliciously fruit driven, packed with deep, dark-red, berry flavours, well supported by just enough oak to give them complexity. She takes the utmost care with the grape on the vine, either from their own farm or elsewhere, saying “There is no way that you can make good wine without paying attention to the grape.”
Even though her first sip of wine back in 1999 left her wondering why anyone would want to drink anything so awful, it has become “a passion I cannot live without.” Charming and direct as she is, without any trace of affectation, she is a delight to talk to, someone who really knows what she’s doing and where she’s going.