Ntsiki Biyela has become the first black woman in South Africa ever to launch her brand of wine. She remembers arriving East of Cape Town and seeing a small tree in the landscape, what she later learned were “grapes.”
It was the first time Biyela had ever seen a vineyard. Little did she know that it was her first step towards becoming a female winemaker in her country.
All these occurred in 1999 when Biyela had recently finished high school. Her country was only five years old from the hands of the oppressive Apartheid system characterized by racial segregation for more than half a century.
Ntsiki Biyela engaged in domestic labor in her rural village in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal. As she was earning money, an opportunity came her way when she was informed about an effort to bring more color people into the wine industry through an initiative with Stellenbosch University.
Biyela did not hesitate to apply, and luckily, she won a four-year scholarship together with five other black students in a class of 60.
During her teenage period, she had no familiarity with wine like most blacks. Blacks used to drink home-brewed beer and liquor. They lacked any involvement with the wine industry.
After finishing her studies, Biyela was hired in 2003 as a junior winemaker by a small, family-owned winery in Stellenbosch. Within some years, she was put in charge of winemaking.
At her time in Stellekaya, the wines, mainly Bordeaux won prestigious awards and gained a following in South Africa and beyond.
In 2009, Biyela was named as the first South Africa’s Woman Winemaker. She branched out of Stellekaya to develop her label, “Aslina,” named after her grandmother.
Biyela perceives having her brand as a way of giving back her community. What drives her more is her background in Zululand where she wants to start an “information center.”
She says that she wants to help people look for opportunities beyond the village by providing the unlimited internet that is absent in her village.
Biyela dreams of bringing a fermenting change in an industry where ownership and leadership are still overwhelmingly white. She plans to empower and transform the black people in her country by increasing the employment and leadership roles through her wine initiative.
Skill, drive, and luck have brought her national and international recognition. She has become a role model and a leading symbol of change in her country’s evolving wine industry and beyond.
Today, she is one of the probably famous black winemakers in a national industry that is currently the world’s seventh-largest in production. It has employed 290,000 people and had more than 550 wineries.