Vision Beyond the Bottle in South Africa’s Wine Industry

Meet three women that are working to break stereotypes in the wine business, and build a new legacy for South African wine—one bottle at a time.
Left to right: Ntsiki Biyela, Vivian Kleynhans and Denise Stubbs / Photo by Maree Louw

The Ovambo tribe in southern Africa has a proverb that goes something like this: “If you do not have patience, you cannot make beer.” The same could be said for the emerging group of women making wine in South Africa, whose time has come. But don’t think for a moment they’re making “feminine wines”: The three interviewed here have a vision beyond the bottle.

We spoke with Ntsiki Biyela, owner of Aslina wine and the first black female winemaker in South Africa; Vivian Kleynhans, chief executive of African Roots Wines, producer of Seven Sisters Wines; and Denise Stubbs, business director of Thokozani, a shareholder empowerment project that produces Ovation and Thokozani wines.

“There is always
a responsibility we, as humans, have toward ourselves and others.”
—Ntsiki Biyela

You’ve said the wine industry has been male dominated for a long time. Is that changing?

Ntsiki Biyela: There are more women and black people coming on board [but] there [are] still very few women compared to a number of men. Acceptance at the beginning was not easy, but as people get to know you, you become friends.

As an award-winning winemaker, did your achievements give you a particular advantage or responsibility?

NB: The title gave me an advantage and the recognition for my wines. There is always a responsibility we, as humans, have toward ourselves and others so we can show the way to those who have no access to where we are.

What’s been the greatest reward of your business?

Denise Stubbs: I trained and uplifted several general workers on the farm, and today, they have senior positions and tell our story about Thokozani. They are also shareholders in our business: Ownership and measurements are vital.

We became the first [Black Economic Empowerment] wine company in South Africa to sign exclusively with the Woolworths [national retail chain] in 2015. This was history, not because of our color or scorecards, but because of quality and our change in the industry.

The wines of Seven Sisters are named for you and each of your six sisters. What do you want the brand to say about women and family?

Vivian Kleynhans: Women are powerful human beings. However, they always have to be mindful of who created them and for what purpose—only then will they be completely fulfilled and satisfied. We are paving the way for our children and need to leave a legacy of integrity behind.

Published on July 21, 2017
Topics: Q&A
About the Author
Lana Bortolot

Bortolot has written about community development, historic preservation and arts & culture for the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, on design for Entrepreneur magazine, on food and wine for Saveur and other magazines for the wine and spirits trade. She holds the Level 3 Advanced Wine & Spirits Education Trust certification and is working on the Level 4 Diploma. Having covered most European wine regions and a few in South America, she is always looking for a new wine-stained stamp on her passport.



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