Last night we joined Ntsiki Biyela, the young winemaker of the boutique winery Stellekaya, at the Jena Viva Restaurant in Somerset West for wine tasting and dinner. Having grown up in Kwa Nondlovu village in KwaZulu Natal, Ntsiki exceled in science at Mahlabathini High School and won a South African Airways scholarship to study oenology at Stellenbosch University. She took a bus across country and found herself in a foreign culture and attending classes offered in a language (Afrikaans) also foreign to her. She persisted, attained her degree in Viticulture and Oenology, did an internship at Delheim Winery, and was named winemaker at Stellekaya in Stellenbosch. Today she is one of just 15 black winemakers in South Africa, despite efforts to increase the number through programs like the Cape Winemakers Guild’s Protégé program. Ntsiki was named Landbouweekblad’s Woman Winemaker of the year in 2009.
We tasted three of Ntsiki’s wines—the 2008 Hercules, the 2007 Orion, and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Hercules is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Orion is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Ntsiki’s first love is the Sangiovese grape, and she also brought us of the not yet released 2009 Sangiovese, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2009 vintage was superb, and this wine shows the potential of Sangiovese in Stellenbosch with its deep red cherry flavors and chocolate notes from well-toasted oak.
This is the first South African Sangiovese we’ve tasted on our South Africa trip, but we understand that Chris Mullineux also makes an excellent one called The Three Foxes in Swartland. We’ll be seeing him next week and look forward to tasting it.