Let me tell you a little story, can I? I’m gonna tell it anyways, so here goes…..
When I was a student I was lucky enough to secure myself a bursary, they sponsored students in the following fields; Food Science, Food Technology, Viticulture (Wine making), Agriculture and Consumer Science: Food & Nutrition. We would have annual meetings with the sponsors so as to give us a platform to talk about the bursary itself, they would talk about our progress and performance, we would also discuss the challenges we faced at our institutions. We were a combination of students from various institutions around the Western Cape. Our sponsor did something that I think was very inspiring to us students at the time. They would invite motivational speakers and at this one time they invited Ntsiki Biyela, the first black female winemaker in the country. We took in every word she uttered, more especially the Viticulture students. They were the once with the most challenges i.e. language used at the institutions and stuff like that. But having someone like Ntsiki Biyela there gave us a lot of motivation. We were so fired up. We were like if she could do it against all odds, they so can we!
Few months ago, at an event hosted by Zonnebloem Wines, I couldn’t help but take note of Praisy Dlamini, a 26 year old assistant red-wine maker at Zonnebloem. She was introducing some of the wines served with the food, I was impressed and proud. She was doing her thing and she was good at it. I wanted to feature here on the blog and so I got that opportunity. This is her story:
After three months at Elsenburg Agricultureal College in Stellenbosch to study winemaking, she packed up all her belongings and returned to her family home in Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal. “I was going home for the Easter holidays but in truth, I had no intention of returning. It was so far away from home. I was 17 years old and I just felt overwhelmed.”
Her mother talked her into getting back on the bus to Stellenbosch, telling her not to squander the opportunity she had been given. A top-performing A-grade learner, she had been handpicked as the beneficiary of a Department of Agriculture scholarship to pursue studies in some field pertaining to agriculture.
“I couldn’t make up my mind between a career in wine or food technology because chemistry was my favourite subject school. In the end, wine won out but it took a lot of focus, guts and discipline to familiarise myself with something so removed from my own experience until then. I had absolutely no wine background growing up.”
“Although the textbooks were in English, lecturers were mostly in Afrikaans. I think the breakthrough for me came when I realised I could ask my professors and fellow-students for support.”
After graduating in 2007, she applied for a place in the Cape Winemakers’ Guild Protégé programme, a mentoring initiative for aspirant wine makers who come from historically disadvantaged communities. Successful candidates are given the opportunity to work alongside some of South Africa’s leading wine makers, all of whom are members of the prestigious, by-invitation-only Cape Winemakers’ Guild.
Amongst her mentors were Philip Costandius, cellar master at the time of Lourensford, David Finlayson then of Glen Carlou and now Edgbaston and Pieter “Bubbles” Ferreira of Graham Beck, together with Irene Waller.
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After completing the programme, she joined Bergkelder under Andrea Freeborough, another fine teacher she says, and was appointed to the Zonnebloem team in 2013. “I count myself immensely privileged to have been exposed to so many talented and generous people who have taught me so much. Here at Zonnebloem, under Deon Boshoff, I am learning even more. This is such a quality-focused, thriving brand. What I really am enjoying is the very considered way in which we work. Every step you take has a very carefully reasoned rationale.”
She has also started a tasting group, to benchmark what she and her peers are making with other local and also international wines, and she now mentors newcomers to winemaking, “giving back in the way people have given and continue to give to me”.
She feels good about how many women there are in the wine industry now. “Whether it’s a part of our make-up or because we have been socialised to do it, we have a very heightened awareness of taste, so why not apply that in your career too?”
Does she ever regret not having chosen food technology? “Not at all. Wine is so much about what happens around the table. I love cooking and think a lot about the wine to open when I’m planning a meal. Right now, I’m planning a pasta dish, made with chicken and cream that I’m going to serve with our Chardonnay.””
Her favourite wine in the Zonnebloem range is the Lauréat, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend that includes Merlot and small quantities of Malbec and Petit Verdot. “It’s forthright with expressive fruit but refined and very elegant.”
She also loves the floral dimension that the tiny bit of Viognier gives to the Shiraz/ Mourvèdre/Viognier blend. “It’s a touch of magic that harmonises the whole.”
Like her fellow assistant red-wine maker, James Osche, Cabernet Sauvignon is her favourite varietal because of its complexity.
Her first name, Sanelisiwe, is isiZulu for “we are satisfied”.
“That’s the name my parents chose for me as the first born although everyone calls me Praisy, which is actually my second name, but I hope the work I do brings satisfaction to my colleagues, my mentors and, of course, everyone drinking the Zonnebloem wines I have a hand in making!”