Category Archives: South Africa

South Africa Comes Of Age: Winemaker Ntsiki Biyela Opened My Eyes To What It Could Produce

Ntsiki at Stellekaya

This is a photo of my friend, Ntsiki Biyela from Stellekaya. I met her six years ago this month. I think it was on January 18. I had written a long article for the magazine Gourmet Retailer on South African wines and they found me through that piece. I organized a few press events for her and attended others. It was my first foray into South African wines. Since then, thanks to conferences and tastings I have tasted many others that I have enjoyed. I am due for a new tasting and hopefully one will be coming round soon or someone fun will come to town. In the meantime, I can go to any wine store these days and by a South African wine. Something unexpected years ago. Today Meininger Wine Business International came out with this article which struck me and I found very interesting. Kudos to Jim Clarke, the PR agency involved and Wosa for their work here in the US. I just discovered that they even have an online certification class now. I remember talking to someone in South Africa in 2010 about coming over to do certifications for the New York Trade. Times have changed. This photo was from the 1994 voting in Soweto when Apartheid had finally ended. I used to work in an office with the Associated Press and was the recipient of amazing photos when they went digital.


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Women In Wine Fridays: Stellekaya’s Ntsiki Biyela

Rumor has it or Skype at least that my friend and favorite South African winemaker is in town (NYC) this weekend – Ntsiki Biyela. I haven’t seen Ntsiki in a few years but have spoken with her after her stay in Italy working at Petra. I’m curious to hear how her winemaking has been influenced by her Italian sojourn. I think she has caught the love of Italy bug that I suffer from as do many other people all the world over.

My friend Peter Conway of Mano A Vino wrote a nice post about Ntsiki that you can read here.

I’m hoping to catch up with her and chat more about Italy, wine, Stellekaya, and South Africa. I am curious to find out how the country is evolving and dealing with Nelson Mandela’s current health issues. He is one of my great heroes and I am happy to know he is out of the hospital.

I keep this quote from him on my desk at all times to remind myself to be courageous:

“I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it…The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”


Filed under Italian wineries, italy, Meet the Winemaker, South Africa, wines, Women in Wine

South Africa & Madiba On My Mind

Like so much of the world, I am anxiously reading news of Nelson Mandela. We all know he is frail and certainly not young. That said, his presence makes the world a better place. He had been one of my heroes for many years and as I write this I am looking at a quote of his that I keep on my desk.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it… The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

So much has been and is being said about Mandela but in my small way, I keep him in my prayers by my thoughts and South Africa in my mind by drinking their wines and toasting to him. My most recent article on South African wines was part of a round-up by bloggers who participated in the Snooth PVA bloggers weekend in March.

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New World Wines: South African Wines Continue to Excite Me


Thanks to the Snooth PVA blogger weekend, I had the occasion to try a number of wines from South Africa paired with South African cuisine at the Institute of Culinary Education.

I have written about South African wines a number of times on this blog after a wonderful introduction to these wines in 2010 at the Society of Wine Educators conference.

I also had the great fortune to work on a project for Stellekaya and to befriend the wonderful Ntsiki Biyela, their wine maker. All this to say that South African wines have a special place in my heart although I still have not visited that beautiful country. I can’t write about South African wines without mentioning my admiration for Nelson Mandela, one of my heroes.

At the Snooth luncheon we tasted through a number of wines made from international varieties and one Pinotage. I’ve never been a huge Pinotage fan but I was willing to be more open-minded.

I showed my open-mindedness by trying ostrich for the first time as I am already quite familar with Biltong, a South African cured meat.

Of the wines, my favorites were the following:

Graham Beck Brut NV with its refreshing, yeasty aromas and flavors coming from the 15 months it spends on its lees.

Raats Family Chenin Blanc 2009, a wine I know well from previous tastings. It was lush and rich with the right waxy, mineral notes I look for in Chenin. They also make great Cabernet Franc wines.

De Morgenzon Chardonnay 2012 was not my usual style, a big, oaked Chardonnay but something about it pleased me that day whether it was the pairing or the fact that they pipe Baroque music into their winery.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2010 interested me because I had never had a Pinot Noir from South Africa. As you would expect, it had mushroom, earthy notes and was lighter than most of the other red wines we tried.

Warwick Pinotage Old Bush Vines 2011 with its full bodied mouth and rich chocolate flavors made me think that Pinotage can have a place at the table. I might have put it at the end of the meal with dessert.’

Ken Forrester “T” Late Harvest 2010 was a delicious late harvest wine in the same style as many from Alsace. I am a crazy about sweet wines so this one fit the bill. Forrester is another winery that I know well, having tried much of his Chenin Blanc at previous tastings.

According to a report I read recently on, the harvest this year in South Africa is supposed to reach record levels. I look forward to seeing what the year brings forth.

Please check out Ben Carter’s great review of the wines of South Africa from our tasting at Benito’s Wine Reviews.


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Women in Wine Fridays: Stellekaya’s Nitsiki Biyela Discusses Her Time In Italy at Petra

Women in Wine Friday’s is back and this week’s focus is on Ntsiki Biyela, one of my favorite wine makers, a gem of a lady from South African winery Stellekaya. I have written extensively about Ntsiki in the past but today wanted to highlight what she though of working in the Maremma area of Tuscany in Italy at Petra. Read another women in wine’s “wine story” about Petra itself here.

Ntsiki and I chatted a while ago about her experience and what I noted was her enthusiasm for Italy. She said that she thought the culture at the winery was inspiring and that everyone really worked together. She said she was thrilled to be involved in that same level of teamwork that she finds in her native South Africa. Like the rest of us, she too was enthralled with the farm to table approach to living that the Italians have been doing since time immemorial.

Ntsiki said that she was excited to find similar techniques being done at Petra as those she herself uses in South Africa. With crates and sorting tables and small details that she discussed.

She also noted that her work with Sangiovese in South Africa had given her a renewed interest in seeing how Sangiovese grows in Italy. She was very pleased with the comparison she told me and felt that her Sangiovese was doing quite well and that her questions about the grape had been answered thanks to her sojourn in Italy. The owner of Stellekaya fell in love with Italy and wanted Ntsiki to make a blend with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The blend called Hercules is available locally in a number of retail stores including Maslow 6.

I did a project with the Stellekaya winery a few years ago in New York. Ntsiki is one of the most interesting and charming women I have met in the industry. I found her story inspiring and her wines delicious, always a great combination in a winery and in a friend.

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Filed under Italian regions, Italian wineries, South Africa, Women in Wine

Wine Wednesday: New World Wines – South Africa and Nelson Mandela

Today is Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday. I remember the day he was released from prison perfectly. I remember how happy I was to think he was free. Thinking of all he has done in the ensuing years, since that day, is truly beyond inspiring. Would that the world had more people like Mandela.

South Africa has gone through numerous changes in the past 18 years. Nelson Mandela was freed 18 years ago; peaceful democratic elections were held in 1994 and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission went a long way toward healing wounds post-apartheid; and South Africa has become a vibrant democracy with a lively tourist industry. South Africa has been courting tourists for many years, primarily pushing its host of flora and fauna as the prime attraction. Things have changed, though, and South African food and wine have become a real draw. Winemaking is not new to South Africa. The country has been producing wines since 1659.

I have the privilege of being friends with one lovely South African winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela. I’m thinking of her today and all the South Africans that Mandela has helped directly and so many of us that he has inspired around the world. Happy birthday Madiba.

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South African Chenin Blanc From Joostenberg- A Summer Treat

Let me start by saying Chenin blanc is my favorite international white wine grape. It is versatile yet recognizable, fruity but also filled with minerality and I think the sexiest white grape around. Of course there are many indigenous white grape varieties that I admire from Viognier to Vermentino but Chenin blanc, grown in many places is always representative of that particular terroir. Anyway, I’m just partial to it.

I’ve had a number of Chenin blanc’s from South Africa as this post illustrates but I had never had this one from Joostenberg until recently.

The winery is located in the Muldersvlei area near Stellenbosch and Paarl. It was bought by the Myburgh family in 1879. The current owners are the 5th generation to run this farm. In 1999 Tyrrel and Philip Myburgh began selling Joostenberg wines both locally and abroad instead of selling grapes to the local coops as they had done previously.

The winery is organic and full organic certification is imminent. They plant Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Touriga Nacional and Mourvedre.

This wine, which I tasted at Kaia, a great relatively new wine bar on the East side of Manhattan with my friend and fellow Italophile, Carmel D’Arienzo of Bella Vita Living, Arbonne and Villa Concierge, was a perfect blend of fruit and acidity with a hint of sweetness and floral notes on the finish. The floral notes surely come from the 5% Viognier that is added to this blend.

The blend is interesting because the Chenin ferments only in stainless steel while the Viognier fermented in oak barrels. Both rest on their lees for four months before blending, giving a great nutty toasty flavor to the wine. This year, for the first time, 40% of the Chenin Blanc underwent “natural fermentation,” without selected yeast in order to bring a bit more texture and minerality to the blend.

I really liked this wine and thought it was the perfect Summer treat. As some of you know, I am partial to South Africa and consider a wonderful South African woman in wine, Ntsiki Biyela, a friend. She’s the winemaker at Stellekaya. She actually made me very happy two weeks ago on my birthday when she told me that a journalist from an important New York based paper read about her on a blog and then interviewed her for the paper. She was thrilled to be interviewed and I am happy to think that I may have contributed to getting her more press, even if only indirectly, this time.

Full disclosure dictates that I let people know that I did some PR work for the winery after I met and interviewed her last year. She’s a fabulously interesting woman and her wines, although she doesn’t yet make a Chenin are well worth trying.

I first learned about South African wines at the Society of Wine Educators conference I attended in 2009. Wines of South Africa gave the key note address and provided amazing materials to the group. I used them to write an article for Gourmet Retailer at the start of 2010 and the rest is history. I saw today in my email that my friend/colleague in the wine world Tracy Ellen Kamens from Grand Cru Classes will be teaching a seminar at this year’s conference. I’m sorry to miss it. Tracy has a lovely blog and also sends monthly newsletters from her wine school. I am sorry to be missing this year’s seminar.

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