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Women’s Month: These 5 women are helping grow the South African wine industry

Marelise Niemann. Picture: Supplied

Marelise Niemann. Picture: Supplied

Published Aug 5, 2022

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The wine industry has historically been a male-dominated one but recently there has been an increase in female winemakers in South Africa who are giving the men a run for their money.

In honour of Women’s Month, we are celebrating the trailblazing female entrepreneurs around the country that have shaped the wine industry into what it is today. In professions dominated by men, these women worked tirelessly to become experts in their field and masters of their craft.

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Natasha Williams

Natasha Williams has been a part of the team at Bosman Family Vineyards since 2014. Lelie Van Saron is William’s own label which she started after spending time abroad completing harvests.

The name Saron refers to her hometown in the Western Cape and the aim of this label is to produce wines that focus on terroir and the grape variety.

It was her school career counsellor who first recognised Williams’ potential to become an excellent winemaker, given her interests.

Williams went on to graduate from Stellenbosch University with a degree in Oenology, did a stint in California, and travelled through France before settling as a winemaker at Bosman Family Vineyards.

It’s here that she sources the grapes for her personal venture, Lelie van Saron. Williams started with a Chardonnay and Syrah and recently expanded her range.

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She creates wines with a pure expression of the terroir and grape variety, using natural methods.

Ntsiki Biyela

Ntsiki Biyela is one of South Africa’s iconic and world-renowned winemakers.

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Biyela has forged a path to become a highly respected and widely admired name in the world of wine. In 2016, she established Aslina Wines, inspired by the strength and determination of the biggest influence in her life, her grandmother.

Today, Aslina is renowned for its range of premium wines and is the realisation of Biyela’s dream to create an exceptional world-class brand.

Her ambition to create her own wines grew following a collaboration with Californian winemaker Helen Kiplinger as part of Mika Bulmash’s Wine for the World initiative.

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It was over dinner and a glass of wine with her new colleagues in the US, that Biyela shared the story of the inspiration behind her ambition.

Her grandmother was the guiding light in her life, and it became obvious that her new brand should be named Aslina in the matriarch’s honour.

Samantha Suddons

In 2020 Samantha Suddons launched her own wine label called VineVenom. Suddons journey in winemaking began when she moved to South Africa at the age of 21.

After completing her studies with the Cape Wine Academy and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, Samantha gained a wealth of experience with prominent wineries, including Mullineux, Terracura, Silwervis, Smiley Wines, and Reyneke.

The latter made the greatest impression, exposing her to low intervention, biodynamic and organic farming.

As such, VineVenom produces wines from sustainably farmed vineyards, focusing on quality over quantity to express terroir.

Carmen Stevens

Carmen Stevens is the founder of Carmen Stevens Wines - the first 100% black-owned winery in SA. As a black woman pursuing a winemaking career in the apartheid-era in SA, Stevens had to roar to be heard.

She had to fight off prejudice just to be given the chance to learn how to make wine. Carmen Stevens Wines was established in 2011 with its maiden vintage in 2014.

Stevens has been involved in the South African wine industry since qualifying in 1995. She graduated as the first black South African to study the art of winemaking in South Africa. In January 2019 Stevens registered the first 100% black-owned winery in South Africa in Stellenbosch.

Marelise Niemann

Marelise Niemann is the maker of her own-label Momento Wines as well as for Bot River farm, Anysbos, where she makes both ranges in the cellar.

Niemann has since become known for wines of purity, elegance, and honesty, working with old vines in both Bot River and the Swartland with a minimal intervention approach putting terroir front and centre.

It may have been “a skelm glass of Tassies at a school dance” that kindled her curiosity in winemaking, but she has gone on to produce elegant and pure wines with sound structure and texture.

Having cut her teeth in California and as a winemaker for Beaumont wines, Niemann picked her first Grenache for her solo project in 2011 and then launched Momento wines in 2013.

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