While celebrating this year’s harvest, the South African wine industry last night honoured four oenologists for their exceptional contribution not only to the tradition of winemaking, but service to the industry.
Among the awardees were Stellenbosch wine legend Beyers Truter, and Ntsiki Biyela who transitioned from domestic worker to one of the country’s most celebrated female winemakers.
The awards were presented at the annual Wine Harvest Commemoration, which was held virtually in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Wine Harvest Commemoration, organised by Agri-Expo, marks the birth of the country’s wine industry, exactly 362 years ago in 1659.
During a glitzy affair at the Groot Constantia Wine Estate – the oldest wine-producing farm in Mzansi – the industry also united in asking for the blessing of this year’s wine harvest.
Truter, the Beyerskloof cellar master known worldwide as the king of Pinotage, walked away with the iconic 1659 Award for Visionary Leadership.
Organisers applauded him for his many efforts and initiatives to the benefit of the wine industry. The award also recognises his lasting impact and legacy, as well as his inspirational role in the lives of a new generation of winemakers.
As a winemaker, wine personality and owner of Beyerskloof, Truter has been on a nearly life-long mission to ensure global recognition for the South African Pinotage variety as a premium red wine.
In 1979, Truter obtained a BSc Agriculture degree in oenology and viticulture at Stellenbosch University.
At the age of 25, he became the winemaker of Kanonkop, establishing the brand worldwide with numerous awards, including the prestigious Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Trophy for the world’s best red blend with his iconic Paul Sauer 1991 Bordeaux blend.
Meanwhile Biyela, the country’s first black female winemaker, also received top honours. She received the Diversity and Transformation Award.
The judges say it recognises her role in paving the way for others by eliminating barriers, while also contributing to industry knowledge and having an overall influence on the image of the South African wine industry.
Biyela grew up in Mahlabathini, Kwazulu-Natal. After matriculating, she worked as a domestic worker before receiving a scholarship to study at Stellenbosch University.
In 2003, she also obtained a BSc in Agriculture in viticulture and Oenology. After 13 years as a winemaker at Stellekaya Wines, she started Aslina Wines.
Biyela also worked in Bordeaux and was invited to make a wine for the Winemakers Collection, an opportunity afforded only to a handful of winemakers from across the global.
She was named Woman Winemaker of the Year in 2009 and one of Fortune magazine’s top 20 most innovative women in food and drinks in 2017.
“everyone who continues to help shape the WINE industry will be acknowledged, valued, heard and seen.”
This year, the board of Groot Constantia introduced three new awards as part of the Wine Harvest event to enable wider recognition.
These awards covered the categories, diversity and transformation, wine appreciation and wine advancement, as well as viticulture and wine creation.
Renowned wine expert Michael Fridjhon from Johannesburg was the recipient of the Wine Appreciation and Wine Advancement Award.
The criteria for this award included noticeable contributions towards the image of wine and its responsible use, as well as building the image of the South African wine industry as a whole through their sphere of influence.
Fridjhon has over four decades of wine experience, and is highly regarded as one of the country’s most respected international wine judges.
He is one of the country’s leading wine writers, involved in more than 40 wine books, and known for the Wine Wizard website.
Fridjhon has chaired the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show since 2002 and the Old Mutual Trophy Spirits Show since 2019.
He was the first international co-chairperson of the International Wine Challenge and is a former chairperson of the Six Nations Challenge.
Another winner is Johan Reyneke from Stellenbosch, a pioneer of organic and biodynamic winemaking. He was honoured with the Viticulture and Wine Creation Award.
The criteria for this award include the development of new ideas, technologies and methods within the wine-making industry, implementation and transfer thereof, changing mindsets, and benefitting the wine industry in general.
Reyneke was a post-graduate student in environmental ethics at Stellenbosch University when he took over farming from his mother on their family farm, Uitzicht in the Polkadraai Hills.
His experience in the vineyard, together with the insights he gained during his studies, led him to start farming in a more environmentally friendly way.
He converted the farm to organic in 2000 and established it as one of the first internationally certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in South Africa.
Reyneke Wines was one of the first organic wineries to receive a five-star rating in Platter’s Wine Guide.
In 2020, UK wine writer Tim Atkin named Reyneke as Grower of the Year in his report on South Africa.
This evening, Dr Ernest Messina, chairperson of Groot Constantia, said the South African wine industry should “relive, review and renew” its powerful story.
Much work remains to be done to tackle negative perceptions of the industry, and to create a more representative future for the industry.
“In this way, everyone who has helped and continues to help shape and build the industry will be acknowledged, valued, heard and seen.”