South Africa’s Ntsiki Biyela has a unique personal and professional story. Growing up in Mahlabathini, a rural village north of the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, Biyela never dreamt of being a winemaker, but she is now a black woman in a field dominated by white men.
South Africa’s wine industry has over the years been the domain of a few white elites. But the emergence of some black people in the industry including the likes of Biyela’s Aslina Wines is changing the face of the sector.
Biyela first rose to fame in 2014 after becoming the first Black female winemaker in a country which is among the world’s top 10 wine producers. She has spent 13 years as head winemaker at a family-owned winery but has now opened her own company, Aslina Wines.
The 39-year-old exports her products around the world, as she is currently expected to ship 12,000 of her first bottles to the U.S.A., Germany, Taiwan and Ghana this year.
“When I was working for, or collaborating with other brands, I always knew that at some point I am going to have to start my own company – I also knew that I was going to name it after my late grandmother, Aslina, in her honour,” she told the Business Insider South Africa in an interview.
Aslina Wines established three years ago, produces cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and a bordeaux blend sourced from around Stellenbosch, South Africa’s wine region. Biyela is immensely a part of the production process, adding that “When the product is finished and you have the wine in a glass, it’s just fulfilling.”
Biyela had since her teenage years wanted to study chemical engineering, but that did not materialize due to lack of funds. Instead, she began studying viticulture at Stellenbosch University in 1999 after receiving a scholarship. This move exposed her to the wine industry.
Her cabernet sauvignon earned her South Africa’s Woman Winemaker of the Year award in 2009 but the black winemaker believes said she does not dwell on all those awards and honours. She told the AFP recently that her focus now is to improve on her products, especially in an industry that relies on quality and reputation.