Episode 087

Ntsiki Biyela

The African woman trailblazer in the wine industry

October 6, 2019

Episode Overview

“I am where I am because somebody gave back. If they didn’t, I might not have been here. The company is named after someone who believes in that, so it is my call, it’s in my heart, it’s me.” – Ntsiki Biyela

Ntsiki Biyela is a trailblazer in every sense of the word.  She went from being a domestic worker to becoming the first black woman winemaker in South Africa!

Ntsiki grew up in Mahlabathini – a rural village in KwaZulu Natal.  She dreamed of becoming an engineer, but after finishing high school, Ntsiki’s family didn’t have money for her to continue with her education.  She ended up taking a job as a domestic worker. Ntsiki had been an impressive student, and so when her former school teachers heard about a scholarship for University, they went looking for her.

The scholarship was to study winemaking at Stellenbosch University.  Winemaking wasn’t something Ntsiki had ever thought about doing, or even knew anything about. In fact she shares that she used to drink cider, and thought that was wine! And to further complicate the situation, the scholarship was for classes that were all taught in Afrikaans –  a language Ntsiki didn’t speak.

But Ntsiki was undeterred, and immersed herself into her studies.  She graduated in 2003 with a BSc in Agriculture ((Viticulture and Oenology), and then joined boutique winery Stellekaya the following year.  Just five years into her career as a winemaker, Ntsiki was named Woman Winemaker of the Year.

Ntsiki used her time at Stellekaya to learn everything she could about the wine business.  But she always knew that in order for her to be able to give back to her community in the way she wanted to, she would eventually need to branch out on her own.

In 2016, Aslina Wines, which is named after Ntsiki’s grandmother, was born.  Last year Ntsiki was named one of the world’s top 20 most innovative women in food and drink by Fortune Magazine!

Ntsiki is now in an enviable position – she has more demand for her wines than she can keep up with!

what you’ll learn in this episode

  • How Ntsiki went from being a domestic worker to becoming South Africa’s first black, female winemaker
  • Why Ntsiki named her winery ‘Aslina’
  • The biggest dream Ntsiki has for Aslina
  • What it’s like being one of only a few black winemakers and even fewer black female winemakers in the world
  • What it meant to Ntsiki to be name winemaker of the year
  • The terrible advice a marketer tried to give Ntsiki about naming one of her wines ‘Msasane’
  • The greatest lesson she learned from working as a domestic servant
  • What it was like attending university – in a language she didn’t understand
  • The woman that Ntsiki most admires
  • The best advice she has ever been given
  • What Ntiski is most grateful for
  • Why one of Ntsiki’s wines is named after the Acacia tree
  • What Ntsiki is most afraid of
  • What Ntsiki’s favorite wine is
  • The not so surprising (but funny) thing that Ntsiki always carries with her everywhere she goes
  • What Ntsiki’s “I am…” is


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