Black South African Goes From Never a Sip to Vineyard Fame
on 30/08/11 at 1:52 pmWine
When Ntsiki Biyela won a winemaking scholarship in 1998, she was certainly a curious choice. She had grown up in the undulating hills of Zululand, living in a small village of huts and shacks. People tended their patches of pumpkins and corn. The only alcohol they drank was homemade beer, a malt-fed brew that bubbled in old pots.
Indeed, Ms. Biyela had never even tasted wine, nor had anyone she knew. Her choice of study was a fluke. Though she had been a good student, none of her grant applications for college were approved until an airline, hoping to promote diversity, offered to pay her way to study viticulture and oenology: grapes and wine. What was wine? the young woman wondered, guessing it was another name for cider.
She had never been outside the eastern province of KwaZulu Natal, but she boarded a bus and traveled across South Africa to the wine country of the Western Cape. She gazed at the immense mountains. She puzzled over the short, thin trees planted in perfect rows. She had no idea what they were.
Finally, Ms. Biyela tasted the beverage she had come such a distance to study. She and a handful of other black scholarship students met with a wine connoisseur, Jabulani Ntshangase. He opened a superb red, raised the moist cork to his nose and talked rapturously about the wine’s fruitiness and color and fragrance. She was expecting to sip something sublime when handed the elegant, long-stemmed glass. Instead, she was stunned. It was disgusting.
Ms. Biyela, having definitely adapted her tastes, is now one of this nation’s few black winemakers in an occupation that has been dominated by white people for 350 years. Her blends of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and pinotage have won gold medals and four-star ratings. She was named South Africa’s Woman Winemaker of the Year in 2009. Last month, she was busy judging the country’s entries for the International Wine and Spirit Competition.