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National Women’s Day commemorates the march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria of 20 000 women on August 9, 1956 to petition against Apartheid pass book legislation. The march was led by Albertina Sisulu, Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams.

It changed South Africa and demonstrated the power of women in a society dominated by male voices in authority. Many of these ripples are still felt across society, including winemaking.

Norma Ratcliffe

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Norma Ratcliffe is regarded as the First Lady of the South African wine industry.

Norma has not only played a pivotal role in the success of the family-run wine estate in Stellenbosch, but in a wider sense has impacted the industry. She was the first woman to have served as chairperson of the prestigious Cape Winemakers’ Guild (CWG).

Norma paved the way for many more women winemakers to come to the fore, such as Catherine Marshall, who released the first eponymous range in South Africa to be released by a woman winemaker. Others include Trizanne Barnard, who is based on the Cape Peninsula and has her own label, Trizanne Signature Wines; and, American-born Samantha O’Keefe with Lismore Wines in Greyton. 

Rianie Strydom

In 2010, award winning winemaker Rianie Strydom became the fourth woman to join the CWG after Janey Muller from Lemberg (first), Norma Ratcliffe (still an honorary member) and Louise Hofmeyr from Welgemeend. Andrea Mullineux is the fifth.

Rianie celebrates 24 years as winemaker this year, has her own company and manages and makes wine for Haskell Vineyards.
Her most memorable wine drinking experience was just last month, she says, when she and her husband, winemaker Louis, opened a bottle of 1995 Château Lafite Rothchild that they bought when they both did harvests in France in 1998. “At 23 years this wine was still in immaculate condition and you get so much respect for the iconic wine brands of the world,” she says.

Ntsiki Biyela

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Ntsiki Biyela, winemaker and owner of Aslina Wines.

Ntsiki Biyela opened her own company, Aslina Wines in 2016 to honour her late grandmother. After qualifying at Stellenbosch University, she joined Stellekaya Wines where she became South Africa’s first black woman winemaker. It's a title she bears with pride.

"It comes with a lot of responsibility. I also see it as a key to drive change and assist others where ever possible," she says.

She shipped her first 12 000 bottles under her own label to the US, Germany, Taiwan and Ghana this year. There are currently four different wines under the Aslina range: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Umsasane, a Bordeaux blend. She is currently using the Summerhill cellar facilities and buying in fruit.

She hails from KwaZulu-Natal. Jabulani Ntshangase recruited her at high school to study viticulture and oenology at Stellenbosch on a full scholarship from South African Airways. She simultaneously completed an apprenticeship at the family-owned Delheim Wines outside Stellenbosch. 

Ntsiki completed harvests in Bordeaux, France and Tuscany, Italy and was selected Woman Winemaker of the Year in 2009. She has been the winemaker at red-wine boutique winery Stellekaya at Bosman’s Crossing in Stellenbosch for 12 years before starting her own label in 2014.

Ntsiki’s very first crush at Stellekaya in 2004 produced an award-winning wine, CapeCross 2004, which won a gold medal at the Michealangelo awards in 2006. She made a special trip to her home village for her grandmother to taste. She says this was her most memorable wine experience.

She says SA female winemakers must work harder than their male counterparts. "In fact, not only in wine making, but in general."

August is a busy month for her and her brand, so no slacking off to put her feet up. “I have a lot of upcoming talks and presentations throughout the month,” she says.  

Andrea Mullineux

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Andrea Mullineux is co-owner and winemaker at Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines.

Andrea Mullineux was named the 2016 Winemaker of the Year by the US publication Wine Enthusiast as part of its annual Wine Star Awards. These awards honour individuals and companies that have contributed to the success of the wine industry and have shown “energy, courage, groundbreaking vision and business acumen”. This is the first time a South African winemaker received the honour and only the third woman winemaker winner in the 18-year history of the awards.

Andrea is co-owner and winemaker at Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, with brands Mullineux, based in the Swartland region at Roundstone Farm; as well as a Leeu Passant, based in Franschhoek at the Leeu Estate. Mullineux also has a California brand, Fog Monster Wines.
Since the launch of the Mullineux brand in 2007, Andrea, together with her husband and co-founder Chris, has notched up 18 five-star wine ratings from Platter’s South African Wine Guide as well as being named Winery of the Year in both 2014 and 2016.

She says being named Winemaker of the Year was an incredible honour and made her proud to be making what she loves. 

“I truly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats and the award was not just for me, but really showed that South Africa has a firm place on the world's wine stage.”

“The best thing about being a woman winemaker that I see as a huge benefit towards the wine that is created and the environment that we work in, is that women are inherently nurturing by nature," she says. "That lends itself towards attention to detail in raising the vineyard, maturing the wine, blending barrels to bring out the best in each parcel, and savouring each drop as we know the love and work that went into it. When I make wine, I look at how each day of work from vineyard to winery will fit into the final product.” 

She adds that the positive things about being a female winemaker far outweighs any challenges, “but we do approach things differently in the wine cellar". 

"Women need as much stamina, but might not be physically built the same, so we need to look at other ways of accomplishing the same tasks than our male counterparts. It is still a very male dominated industry and I always wanted to be considered a great winemaker, but I now see that celebrating that I am not just a winemaker, but a female winemaker (all while balancing work with raising a family and still finding "me time") has led to me not just being a winemaker, but also a role model," says Andrea. "I am constantly approached by young women asking for advice in the industry and letting me know that I inspired them. 

"The reward of knowing that I have made a difference to not just the palate, but to some young women as well, makes any challenge worth it.”

She describes her most memorable wine tasting: “I get star-struck when I meet a famous winemaker whom I respect and appreciate. That person was the Italian Angelo Gaja. He was so humble when we met him and open with his knowledge. He is such an inspiration because he has involved his children to the highest degree within his company, setting it up for the next generation.”

Her own wish is to pave the way for winemakers as much as winemakers – many of them women – have helped her. 

Nadia Barnard

Waterkloof Winemaker Nadia Barnard
Waterkloof winemaker Nadia Barnard.

Another female winemaker is making an impression at Waterkloof Wine Estate in Sir Lowry’s Pass. Nadia Barnard has been in the industry for 12 years. “Wine has always been fascinating to me because of my parents who always showed a keen interest. It reflects the way mother nature influences everything. Nadia believes female winemakers have a different approach.

“We love aromas from a young age; smelling our mother’s perfume, cooking and so forth. We are primed, although not exclusively of course, for elegance and finesse.”

She laughs when asked about any disadvantages she may experience in a male- dominated industry. “Actually, there's only an advantage - the men are always very happy to help!”

Cerina van Niekerk

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Cerina van Niekerk, Piekenierskloof Wine Company.

Cerina van Niekerk is the former winemaker of Klawer Wine Cellars who moved to Piekenierskloof Wine Company earlier this month. She also has her own wine label, Cecilia Wines, and believes that multi-tasking comes easier for women than for men – "a true advantage" as a winemaker.

 She says that in her experience, women must work harder, but “as your experience increases, the acceptance increases as well”. She says it is a privilege to be a winemaker in 2018; to be able to do the work you were meant to do and “one where you have the opportunity to be inspired, challenged and where you can apply your talents and capabilities to produce something that can be exceptional”.

Her favourite wine experience was the opportunity to share a bottle of Montrachet over dinner with husband Jaco, when they were still dating.  A close second was listening first-hand to the winemaker of Pichon Comtesse de Lalande, Thomas Do-Chi-Nam, on how he selects the Grand Vin of a specific year, whilst opening the component bottles and making the blend while she watched.

Jacoline Haasbroek

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Jacoline Haasbroek, winemaker and owner of My Wyn boutique.

Jacoline Haasbroek, winemaker and owner of My Wyn boutique winery in Franschhoek, has been a winemaker for the past 17 years. She completed the Cape Wine Academy diploma one and two in the same year. 

She remembers that she got tired of all the studying and instead of aiming for Cape Wine Masters, rather to buy in some grapes and make wine. “I itched to put the academic knowledge into practice, instead of adding another title behind my name; giving nothing back to the industry.”

Today she works with 12 different varieties. “Why? Because I am a woman. If we can do one thing, we can do many more,” she declares.

She says her big inspiration and mentor, Jean Daneel, always agreed with her wine samples, saying, “Jacoline, that may be not according to the text books, but that's you.” She will always be grateful for his influence.

She believes women are prone to a creative, sensory streak. “We talk to our barrels; we touch and feel the grapes. We aren't led by analysis and science alone.”

She says she does not believe gender has to play any role. “As long as you respect nature, nature will respect you. Passion is what counts.”

And how will she be spending Women’s Day this year? She says she used to be a competitive trail runner and there was a great race on Women’s Day in Swellendam. It was always her aim to win it. “With age, comes some calming down. Life is not always a race. I think every day should be a human day - no gender involved. Women do not need a date on a calendar, but I will open one of My Wyn wines for my husband this Women’s Day.”

Alexandra McFarlane

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Alexandra McFarlane between the vines.

Alexandra McFarlane of Druk My Niet outside Paarl has been making wine for the past eight years and spent time at Mulderbosch and Spier before joining Druk My Niet in 2016.

She says she will celebrate personal growth on August 9 and achievements of the past 12 months. 

“Life is hard! It is a privilege to be in a position where you can grow and learn, so reflection is really important and the onus is on you to take that bull by the horns and get on with it in this life. I will raise a glass to all the incredible women in my life that I am so grateful for.”

She singles out a few (male and female) mentors in her career, among them Corlea Fourie at Bosman Family Vineyards outside Wellington. “What an awesome woman; I really admire her. Susan Erasmus who now works for Laffort SA is an encyclopaedia and so she has given me some awesome advice this past year. But Michael Fridjhon has by far been the biggest mentor for me and has had a huge impact on how I have grown.”

Figuring out her own winemaking style and honing her skills to a finer point has been a career highlight. She says: “Calculating an addition anyone can do, but having the confidence to make a decision based on knowledge, experience and intuition is very empowering.” 

She says she is proud to be a female winemaker in SA because “we have beautiful, dynamic industry which is finding its identity". 

"To be a part of that as a woman is pretty awesome. Let’s make some great wines that are really smart and polished and reflect proudly South African soils, sun and the hands who contribute to making it.”

Salome Buys-Vermeulen

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Salome Buys-Vermeulen is the winemaker at Lozärn Wines.

Salome Buys-Vermeulen is the winemaker at Lozärn Wines, a new wine range from Doornbosch farm near Bonnievale, whose first wines were released in December 2017. This family farm’s maiden range includes a single vineyard Carménère, Sauvignon Blanc, Carménère Rose and a special Kay's Legacy.  

She has been at the farm since 2012 and worked at Saronsberg Cellar in Tulbagh, where she met her husband. She was also vineyard manager at Ormonde Private Cellar in Darling and completed a New Zealand harvest during 2011 in Blenheim, where she learnt about Sauvignon Blanc. She also helped at Arendsig during harvest. 

Her favourite wine experience was in 2012, when she drank Carménère for the first time. “So velvety, with soft tannins, and yet arrogant with spices! This was a total bowl over moment - and the reason why we decided to plant Carménère in 2014. We simply just had to see what it would do in home soils.”

Her most memorable wine tasting was in her first year when she and three friends experienced Frans Malan’s wines at Simonsig Wines. “Our friendship was still young then and together with Tammy Turc Nel (Cederberg), Alex Nel (Cederberg) and Elizma Visser (Olifantsberg), we made memories. We're still good friends and now they're all respected winemakers in their own right!”

Salome says her during her wine journey she learned from each winemaker and production manager that she worked alongside. “I‘ve learnt that you can always phone another winemaker. If I must single out one, it would be Lourens van der Westhuizen at Arendsig - he doesn’t know problems, only solutions.”

Mari Branders

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Mari Branders, winemaker at Diemersdal Wines, at an awards evening with the team.

Mari Branders has been the winemaker responsible for some white cultivars and Pinotage on Diemersdal for the past 12 years. She also worked at Bovlei Wines and completed a harvest in California. 

“Besides planning the next wine bottling schedule, I will spend Women’s Day with my husband and two toddlers. I hope to get breakfast in bed, but am not counting on it, as this does not co-incide with Mother’s Day. I will have a glass of sparkling wine, remembering the great women who helped mould South Africa and the trailblazing women who continue to lead the country forward, such as Thuli Madonsela.”

She says at Diemersdal "we are all obsessed with Sauvignon Blanc, so although I have been privileged to attend diverse tastings in South Africa, America and Europe, visiting France’s Sancerre region stands out".

"Experiencing the wines at the home of Sauvignon Blanc, looking over the rolling vines and breathing in that unique terroir - every tasting there was a highlight. And each one in future will be. The diversity of these wines, their purity and their different styles and tastes. Absolutely mind-boggling and very inspirational for a winemaker.”

She singles out Frank Meaker as her wine mentor. He was the production manager at Bovlei. Working with him helped her to understand the realities of being a winemaker. “It is not all about walking the vineyards, barrel tastings and wine shows. There is a lot of administrative work, logistics and daily grind involved. Getting to grips with these aspects early in my career, helped," she says.

“Since joining Diemersdal in 2006, the Louw family have played a major role in my life, as well as the winemakers I have worked with here. We continuously motivate and inspire each other, so mentorship from both sides will always be a part of one’s career in wine.”