SA Wine Trailblazer: Nongcebo “Noni” Langa

“Chenin represents versatility and adaptability,” shares winemaker Nongcebo “Noni” Langa at the recent Drink Chenin Day held at Backsberg in Franschhoek. “That parallels what I see within myself. I hope Chenin continues to break even more boundaries.”

Langa is the winemaker at Delheim Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. In an impressively short time under the auspices of cellarmaster Roelof Lotriet she rose from assistant winemaker in 2019 to winemaker in 2022. 

Revealed at this tasting was the Chenin Blanc Association’s new aroma wheels: with interpretations into isiXhosa, isiZulu and Shona. The three wheels were compiled through a series of workshops in 2022. Langa was part of a set of tasters on the isiZulu panel tasked with describing a range of Chenins using indigenous taste references.

 “I was immediately excited when I heard about the project because it meant I could converse with more people about wine. It meant when I got home and I gave my neighbour the aroma wheel we could understand each other. It’s the removal of the mystery of wine tasting for a greater audience in South Africa.

“We all come from different backgrounds and our aroma memory banks are made up of those origins.”
Much like Chenin she muses: “We have adopted Chenin as our own, it is part of the South African wine industry’s DNA. Its site can be clearly expressed and that is exciting.”

Langa grew up Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal the eldest of five children. “My parents were great and still are,” she shared. “They ensured that my siblings and I always had what we needed. I am grateful to have had them as my pillars and guidance growing up.”

Schooling was at St Nicholas Diocesan and Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High. “ I grew up in a home where no one consumed alcohol so it wouldn't have been possible to know about careers around it or dream of being in the wine industry. Though my initial dream was to become a pilot!"

That being so, a spark for wine was lit during a talk facilitated by the Department of Agriculture while she was still in high school. “I fell in love with the prospect of travelling all over the world while working and I have never looked back. I have harvested in California and Pfalz in Germany.”

She achieved this dream by attaining a scholarship to attend Stellenbosch University where she completed a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology. 

“Education has always been a wildfire that burns within me."

Speaking of, while at Stellenbosch University she worked on a project that focused on eradicating smoke taint in wines after incidences of wildfires in the vineyards. “Wildfires are an increasing reality we can't run away from and this project aimed to assist future producers because once the wine has smoke taint, it usually has to be poured down the drain.”

Further augmenting her studies she says she has completed the Business of Wine course from the University of Cape Town, as well as the prominent (and notoriously difficult) wine judging course with Michael Fridjhon. “And, I am not done yet!

“My parents are great advocates for education. It never mattered to them what I wanted to do, as long as it involved empowering myself with knowledge. And I still carry that with me, where I take every opportunity that comes my way.”

And the opportunities at Delheim are manifold. Langa says she loves the ‘beautiful scenery, amazing people and delectable wines’ at the historic estate situated in the hills of the Simonsberg. But mostly: “Working at Delheim had been a great privilege. It's wonderful to be in an environment that actively looks to invest in your potential. Roelof has been instrumental in shaping my career, from taking me in as an intern to handing over the winemaking reins. The way he views business has been such a great inspiration in pursuing more knowledge."

When it comes to her winemaking philosophy Langa says: “Who we are, is where we are. This describes the way in which we make wines that are reflective of the terroir that we have instead of trying to be like other producers. Delheim Wines are something special in that they hold power in their elegance. " 

Ever-learning she says: “Wine has also become a way for me to understand people and cultures from all over the world.”

When asked if she has any encouragement for aspiring young winemakers, she quips: “Drink more wines!” 

On a more sober note she says: “Be persistent in pursuing your goals, and don't be afraid to take up spaces that scare you.”

- Blog by Malu Lambert