South Africa’s Women in Wine

Thoughts are like vine tendrils in an animated movie. A little green shoot struggles through grains of sand and initially slowly, but ever faster, gains momentum and strength, climbing and gaining purchase, winding itself ever upwards toward the light.

The recent celebration of Women’s Day (August 9) in South Africa started one of those random tendrils. And the thought was initially as generic as women in the wine industry. But then it gained traction and the more I started running through a mental checklist of women winemakers, the more that germinated seed flourished and additional leaves started appearing: viticulturists, logistics, educationalists, marketers, writers – and so the vine climbed and grew.

In the 20 years that I’ve been in the Western Cape remarkable strides have been made. It’s no longer a surprise to see a woman in the winery. Many women are now head winemakers, cellar chiefs, and very comfortable in those positions because they earned them on merit.

Historically, women have played a significant role. Writer Joanne Gibson has beautifully chronicled the role of Catherina Ras at Steenberg – where Elunda Basson is now at the helm after stints at both Nederburg and JC Le Roux’s specialist sparkling wine cellar. Jean Parker of Alytdygedacht is another woman whose role is not always given the prominence it deserves. The same goes for Eleanor Finlayson of Hartenberg.

Having started off in 1984, Norma Ratcliffe was the matriarch of Warwick and was ably assisted at one point by Lola Hunting, now Nicholls. (Nicholls still makes wine at Mitre’s Edge.) Out in Tulbagh, in the enveloping embrace of the Witzenberg mountains, Janey Muller of Lemberg was arguably one of the genuine pioneers of the Swartland, somehow nurturing deeply unfashionable Harslevelu into bottle in the 1990s!

And this is how the leaves sprout and start to intertwine... Andrea Mullineux, one of the modern revolutionaries, now calls the Swartland home, as does Nadia Sadie of David & Nadia, Hanneke Botha at AA Badenhorst, Jolandie Fouché at Kloovenburg, Christa von la Chevallerie of the bubbly label Huis van Chevallerie. Coincidentally, she sold her Nuwedam farm to Suzanne Alheit and her husband Chris since they’d been buying the old vine Chenin Blanc for their acclaimed range of wines. And Old Vines would not even be on the map if it were not for viticulturist Rosa Kruger scouring the land for those gnarled old parcels of venerable fruit and preserving them not just for posterity but making them produce absolute gems.

Louise Hofmeyr of Welgemeend followed in the footsteps of her father, Billy, the pioneer in the 1980s of Bordeaux-style blends in the country. It’s almost impossible to stop the synapses firing when it comes to winemakers – and the list grows ever longer: Izelle van Blerk at the KWV, Nadia Barnard of biodynamic producer Waterkloof who celebrates the Percheron horses which work the vineyards, Lizelle Gerber, cellarmaster at Nederburg with the talented Elmarie Botes in charge of white wine production walking in the footsteps of Andrea Freeborough, now overarching head winemaker at Distell who has held both those positions previously. Bonnie van Niekerk heads up Zonnebloem’s wines with Kelly-Marie Jacobs handling the white wine portfolio. No-one can understate the role that Cathy Jordan played at the farm of the same name – and her promotion of Chardonnay through the interest group, as well as empowerment via the Women in Wine initiative.

To date, Ronell Wiid is the only woman to have won the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year award. Together with Rose Jordaan, the dynamo running Bartinney which is so much more than “just” a wine farm, she remains a force to be reckoned with.

Then there are women doing it for themselves: Catherine Marshall was one of the first garagiste winemakers in the country, having begun crushing grapes with a group of friends as a fun annual project – but it grew into so much more and she’s respected as one of South Africa’s foremost Pinot Noir enthusiasts. Ginny Povall of Botanica Wines, Samantha O’Keefe rising from the ashes of the fires that devastated Lismore, Trizanne Barnard of Trizanne Signature Wines, Rianie Strydom, Melissa Nelson of Genevieve, Carmen Stevens of Carmen Stevens Wines, along with Ntsiki Biyela of Aslina Wines, Natasha Williams with her eponymous label on the side when she’s not working with Corlea Fourie of Bosman Wines. Not to be overlooked are Marelise Niemann of Momento Wines, Jocelyn Hogan of Hogan Wines, Jeanine Craven of Craven Wines, Lucinda Heyns – Illimis, Carla Pauw – Saltare, Jessica Sauerwein – Sauerwein, Berene Sauls who has made such a success of Tesselaarsdal and is an inspiration for her tenacity and drive. What about Melanie van der Merwe – Tanzanite, Ivy du Toit – Jason’s Hill or Erika Obermeyer and her eponymous range which was the inaugural Newcomer of the Year in the Platter Guide in 2019, achieving recognition and a 5 Star rating with her first wines produced?

Then there’s also Elizma Visser at Olifantsberg Wines, while in Robertson Nina-Marie Bruwer is one of the few people to combine a Cape Wine Master qualification with winemaking skill too. (One other woman to do so is Mary-Lou Nash of Black Pearl in Paarl.) Bruwer is responsible for the restoration of interest in Mont Blois and for burnishing the area’s reputation for great Chardonnay. And it would be remiss to speak of Robertson and not acknowledge the marketing role that Jeannette Bruwer and now niece Jenna, made in the success of Springfield. Coincidentally, Jenna’s sister Emma Bruwer is literally fizzing over in Franschhoek, in charge of Cap Classique production at Le Lude. A virtual hop, skip and jump down the road is former maths teacher Irene de Fleuriot at La Bri. At Rupert & Rothschild Yvonne Lester has responsibility for making one of the country’s best selling premium wines, Classique – and also heads up the Merlot producers’ forum.

And responsible for training them are Prof Maret du Toit of the University of Stellenbosch’s department of viticulture and oenology, and Lorraine Geldenhuys who heads up Elsenburg Agricultural College’s wine programme. The Pinotage Youth Development Agency is doing sterling work in training previously disadvantaged youth for roles in wine/hospitality – and one of the facilitators is trained winemaker Nomonde Khubeka. Cultivating an appreciation for wine among consumers is Cathy Marston of the Wine Centre, offering internationally recognised Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) courses up to diploma level while Cape Wine Master Heidi Duminy has just taken over the reins of the Cape Wine Academy.

The next generation of winemakers – young women who have been nurtured through the Cape Winemakers Guild Protegé programme such as Kiara Scott of Brookdale estate and Savage Wines, Chandré Petersen (Accolade Wines), Eloise Kotze (Hartenberg), Gaynore Fredericks (Mullineux), Mahalia Matshete (Stark Condé), Praisy Dlamini, Rose Kruger (Stellekaya) and Sacha Claassen (KWV) hold an amazing amount of promise.

The list goes on – and on. Sincere apologies to those I’m forced to omit due to space constraints. There are literally too many to mention but it’s easy to see how the thought “vine” took root and has now sprawled across the digital page. There can be little doubt that these capable and strong women are up to the challenge of riding out the storm that currently surrounds the local industry at present. 

Images below: Andrea Mullineax & Gynore Fredericks (Winemaking Due at Mullineaux)



Image below: Eloise Kotze (Hartenberg)



Blog by - Fiona McDonald