Women of the vine
In South Africa, during the month of August, we remember the 20,000 women who marched on the Union Buildings to make their voices heard in a society dominated by men. The women we are profiling here have honoured those women, breaking ceilings in the SA winemaking industry and paving the way for a new generation of female winemakers.
‘I believe, as women, there is nothing we can’t do.’
Name: Elunda Basson
Wine estate: Steenberg Vineyards
In the 1600s, Catharina Ras left Germany for the Cape to make wine on what is now the Steenberg Vineyards. She outlived five husbands, wild terrain and many societal and environmental challenges to see her dream of making winning wines come to fruition. More than 400 years later, it’s Cellarmaster and General Manager of Steenberg Vineyards Elunda Basson who’s continuing Catharina’s legacy.
‘There’s a genetic inheritance that still holds true,’ says Elunda. ‘Catharina’s courageous attitude is part of our ethos, our culture. I feel a responsibility to continue the legacy.’
When Elunda joined Steenberg Vineyards in June 2019, she had her sights firmly set on securing Steenberg’s rightful place as a producer of top-tier Sauvignon Blanc. While she has a passion for Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), Elunda cherishes the opportunity to work in the oldest wine appellation of the New World and create award-winning still wines too.
‘I believe the winemaker is the vehicle through which the product of the vine is transformed into a product of pure enjoyment,’ says Elunda.
‘There have been moments in my career where I felt I was treated differently or unfairly,’ she says of being a woman in the wine industry. ‘Since joining this team, it’s been different. I’m surrounded by girl power.’
Name: Natasha Williams
Wine estate: Bosman Family Vineyards
Natasha Williams, arguably the town of Saron’s greatest export, developed a passion for winemaking at a young age. After her studies and winemaking internships, she joined the Bosman winemaking team as a junior winemaker in 2014 and quickly established herself as a bright new talent. In 2018 she was promoted to winemaker at Bosman Adama, taking on the responsibility of the outcomes at the Bosman Family Vineyards cellar. It is here that she creates complex and memorable wines.
‘My goal is to seek out the best terroir and match it with the ideal varietal, then nurture those vines so that they can produce the ultimate wine,’ explains Natasha.
‘A winemaker should be driven by passion and dedication, and be able to adapt to the wine trends and be willing to put in the work to achieve greatness. Let’s be fearless as we strive for greatness. I believe, as women, there is nothing we can’t do.’
Name: Gynore Fredericks
Wine estate: Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines
Gynore grew up in Malmesbury, in the heart of the Swartland, so it’s not hard to believe that she felt drawn to farming from a young age. After completing her studies in agriculture, she did a three-year internship as part of the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) Development Trust Protégé Programme. Gynore has worked at Tokara and De Grendel wineries in South Africa, and as a vintage (cellar hand) in Burgundy, France.
‘After my final internship year spent working alongside Andrea Mullineux, I was appointed as the assistant winemaker at Mullineux Wines, and more recently the winemaker for Great Heart wines.’
Travelling to different wine regions around the world is integral to the winemaking process, and Gynore has her sights set on learning as much as she can from wineries abroad so that she can plough back that knowledge into her local winemaking.
‘In the next few years, I would love to travel to the wine regions of Italy, Spain and California to gain from their knowledge of viticulture, vinification and wine styles,’ she explains.
It’s an exciting time for female winemakers in South Africa, because there is no shortage of opportunities for women who are passionate about producing fine wines and learning about the wine industry.
Gynore agrees and offers this advice to young women who are keen to pursue a career in winemaking: ‘Commitment, hard work and a keen eye for detail, along with true passion for the winemaking process, is the winning combination you need to succeed, since a winemaker only gets one chance every year to create a special wine. It’s an amazing and extremely rewarding industry in which to build a career. ’