Apples, plums, berries, cherries, and melons – light-bodied, medium-bodied, full-bodied… Do these remind you of the warm sensation in your abdomen after taking a few sips? And the gradual relaxation of your muscles, while the tipsy feeling is bubbling under. If you still haven’t gotten it, I am talking about wine. I love wine. Buy me a bottle of Chardonnay and you have made it into my good books.    

Have you ever noticed how when something tastes really good, part of you wants to take a little step further to inquire about the process of making the product? Well, I took that step by speaking to Maryna Calow, Communications Manager at Wines of South Africa (WOSA), an organisation responsible for export promotions in key international markets, Moleboheng Sehume a Connoisseur, and the first black woman winemaker and company owner Ntsiki Biyela of Aslina wines, looking at the dynamics of venturing into winemaking, what the challenges and barriers to entry are if you are interested in owning a wine brand, as well as the business of exporting – how does it all work and how is the industry looking for women entering the space.

The Landscape

According to WOSA, the Stellenbosch region has the most vineyard plantings with 16.4%. Stellenbosch is also a research centre of the winelands. Viticulture and Oenology are only offered at Stellenbosch University. It is also worth noting that the Western Cape climate is perfect for winemaking because it is typically Mediterranean, with warm, dry summers and mild, moist winters and low summer rainfall.

Monique Demes wrote about ‘foreign ownership of South African wineries’ that, ‘’the fact is that foreign investors now have a stake in approximately 100 South African wine estates, which is about 16% of the total. The owners are mostly Dutch, French, British, German, American and Swiss, although countries such as Israel, Russia, Singapore, Australia and the Congo are also piling in. Unbeknownst to many, however, is that South Africa has foreigners to thank for its auspicious foray into wine production.’’

There are five basic stages or steps to making wine: 

· Harvesting,

· Crushing and pressing,

· Fermentation,

· Clarification, and then

· Aging and bottling

Stumbling-blocks In the Wine Industry

Sehume gave an insight into what kind of barriers women are likely to face when they enter the industry. The following are aspects that may be stumbling blocks if not done well.

· Financial backing. It takes quite a lot to farm – getting a row of grapes on a vineyard and bottling as well is costly.

· Networking. This is an important part of the business, and if you don’t know anybody in the industry, your journey may be difficult.

· Knowledge Of The Industry. You are not making hamburgers. There’s more science to winemaking. You have to know what you are dealing with.

While there are no accurate statistics about how many women are in the winemaking field, Calow says that the wine industry has traditionally been very male dominated, but in essence, there is nothing to stop any woman from making a success of a business in wine.

Biyela shares that after years of being in the industry, Aslina wines doesn’t have a home. ‘’The current mission is growing Aslina to be a global brand and to try get a home for the business. Aslina doesn’t have a home – a vineyard and a visitor centre,’’ shares Biyela.

‘’We’re working on ways to get it more inclusive, not just to make it easier for marginalised groups to break in but to create more interest for them as well, and not just in South Africa but globally,’’ Biyela shares her opinion about inclusivity of black women in the field.

Despite the challenges in the industry, Biyela acknowledges that, ‘’the wine industry hasn’t changed much demographically. But when it comes to actually looking at the people who are winemakers, I do see more young winemakers now, a lot of innovation, and new grapes coming up. There’s more experimentation now, looking at the ancient ways of making wines and bringing it back, because it had long been abandoned, to see how it works in the current situation.’’

Calow elaborates about how winemakers can start the process of exporting wine below:

Guide To Exporting Your Wine Brand
  • It is important to get your brand up and running with all your licenses in place. Once this has been done, you can choose to export your wine. It is important to first identify the markets in which you would like to operate as each different market comes with different challenges and approaches.
  • When you have done this, you will need to identify and reach out to importers in those markets in order to introduce yourself and your brands. You will most likely have to send them samples of your wine to taste and familiarize themselves with the branding.
  • It will make sense to join Wines of South Africa, as the industry’s export marketing association, which will help you with information, guidance and platforms to promote your wines internationally.

Sehume gave the following tips to having a successful wine brand.

1. Hire people who understand the legacy of wine.

2. Find a good winemaker.

3. Partner with a good farm.

4. Partner with a great strategist, branding, and marketing team.

5. Have financial backing.

South Africa right now is currently under lockdown restrictions and alcohol sales are banned. Calow shares how this impacts the wine industry. ‘’The local ban on sales due to Covid-19 has had a tremendous impact on our industry. Many of our producers have had to lay off staff and this latest ban may have a significant impact on the longevity of many of these producers. We have lost roughly R9 billion of revenue and the government has missed out on vast amounts of excise tax as well. In addition to this, the growth in illicit trade has been very worrying whilst the job losses stretch way beyond just the direct wine industry to hospitality, manufacturing, etc.’’

The wine industries’ Womenomics needs essential attention in order to have more women take up space in careers and ownership.

A proud moment for Ntsiki Biyela was when retailers approached her without having reached out to them. It all started with a leap of faith and now she is running a company headed towards success.

The industry clearly needs more women as key players in the space. As I pour myself another glass of wine, concluding this blog, it’s beautiful to see how we are spoiled for choice, especially with more and more local brands, successfully entering the market. If you ever needed a sign to start your brand, this is it.