Many years ago, women winemakers were almost unheard of - as noticeable in their absence as women pilots, engineers, or indeed sommeliers. Thankfully, times have changed.
Now more than ever, women are spearheading projects that change the way we drink and helping to preserve the integrity of what’s in our glasses.
From founders, winemakers, to CEOs – this Women’s Month we shine the light on the women in wine from around South Africa on their talent and achievements.
Laurie Cooper is the winemaker and sommelier at Abingdon Wine Estate in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
Together with her father, she runs all the viticulture and viniculture on the four-hectare estate. Cooper is a Wine & Spirit Education Trust diploma graduate and the founder of the KZN School of Wine. She founded the KZN School of Wine in January 2015, realising the need for more wine education in KZN.
Laurie was a recipient of the Codorniu Raventos scholarship for achieving the top mark globally for the sparkling wine diploma exam.
She is a distinction graduate from the Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy and has served as a judge for the SAA wines selection panel as well as the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show and London-based IWSC.
In 2019, Cooper claimed the title of the prestigious Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier of the year 2019. This competition is held annually by the South African Sommelier Association (SASA) and is dedicated to the discipline, art, and love of fine beverages, and to empower professional sommeliers.
Tania Kleintjes is Spier’s organic winemaker. Kleintjes joined the Stellenbosch-based farm in 2007 as an assistant red winemaker.
In 2013 she began a three-year stint in the cellar’s quality control department, before being appointed Spier’s organic winemaker in 2016. Kleintjes now oversees the organic winemaking process – from harvest and production to bottling as well as managing accreditation and compliance.
She graduated with a BSc (Agric) Viticulture & Oenology with Chemistry in 2006. The following year Kleintjes started her MSc (Agric) Oenology and began working at Spier as an assistant red wine winemaker. She eventually completed her MSc (Agric) Oenology while working at Spier.
Her first range of wines has already received the kind of recognition that is only afforded to the country’s top winemakers. The 2019 Platter wine guide awarded four-and-a-half stars to her 2016 Spier Farm House Organic Rose and five stars for her 2016 Spier Farm House Organic Chenin Blanc.
Ntsiki Biyela is one of South Africa’s iconic and world-renowned winemakers. Biyela has forged a path to become a highly respected and widely admired name in the world of wine. In 2016, she established Aslina Wines, inspired by the strength and determination of the biggest influence in her life, her grandmother.
Today, Aslina is renowned for its range of premium wines and is the realisation of Biyela’s dream to create an exceptional world-class brand. Her ambition to create her own wines grew following a collaboration with Californian winemaker Helen Kiplinger as part of Mika Bulmash’s Wine for the World initiative.
It was over dinner and a glass of wine with her new colleagues in the US that Biyela shared the story of the inspiration behind her ambition. Her grandmother was the guiding light in her life, and it became obvious that her new brand should be named Aslina in the matriarch’s honour.
Jessica Saurwein is the founder of Saurwein wines. Saurwein is Jessica Saurwein’s family surname. Steeped in the history of 17th-century winemaking, her forefathers made “sour” wine for the Emperor of Austria.
It became her vocation to redeem her family’s reputation in wine and so after a gap year working locally and internationally in vineyards, she completed a BSc Oenology and Viticulture degree at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Opportunities then led Saurwein into the world of sales and marketing at first, while she worked in the cellar each year during harvest time. She found her way back to making wine by starting her own production part-time in 2015.
When Saurwein had a baby in 2017 she resigned from her job to become a mother and full-time winemaker for her own brand. Today she focuses on handcrafting her two favourite cultivars, Pinot Noir and Riesling, and makes three wines under the Saurwein brand name, two Pinot Noirs and one Riesling.
Carmen Stevens is the founder of Carmen Stevens Wines - the first 100% black-owned winery in South Africa.
As a black woman pursuing a winemaking career in the apartheid-era in South Africa, Stevens had to roar to be heard. She had to fight off prejudice just to be given the chance to learn how to make wine. Carmen Stevens Wines was established in 2011 with their maiden vintage in 2014.
Stevens has been involved in the South African wine industry since qualifying in 1995. She graduated as the first black South African to study the art of winemaking in South Africa. In January 2019 Stevens registered the first 100% black-owned winery in South Africa in Stellenbosch.