For the latest generation of women winemakers, there has been no single path to success. The spectacular career of Ntsiki Biyela is a case in point. Raised in the rural South African province KwaZulu-Natal, Ntsiki Biyela had never tasted a sip of wine before South African Airlines offered her a full scholarship to study oenology in Stellenbosch. Afterwards, in 2004 she joined Stellekaya as a junior winemaker, where she was given responsibility for the entire cellar a year later, becoming the first black woman and first Zulu in South Africa to hold the title head winemaker. It was a bold choice for the winery, but a wise one. In 2009 the agricultural magazine Landbouweekblad named Biyela South Africa’s Woman Winemaker of the Year.
Oenology school followed by travel has been an effective formula for the young, talented and ambitious. After studying at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand, and working stints in the Margaret River of Australia and in Sicily, Italy, Tamra Washington was invited to return home to Marlborough, New Zealand, to launch Yealands Estate Wines. Molly Hill studied at the University of California at Davis then cut her teeth at Domaine Carneros and Sea Smoke before becoming the winemaker at Sequoia Grove in the Napa Valley. Renae Hirsch spent a decade acquiring skills at wineries across the globe before being offered a position at the helm of Henry's Drive in Padthaway, Australia.
In recent years, young women vintners have earned distinguished international reputations as leaders in minimalist winemaking, as witnessed by the fine wines produced and the acclaim bestowed upon Arianna Occhipinti of Occhipinti in Sicily, Italy; Magali Terrier of Domaine Des 2 Anes in the Languedoc-Roussillon, France; and Nadia Verrua of Cascina Tavijn in Piedmont, Italy.
It seems counterintuitive, but women born into the world’s most prestigious wine making families often have to work the hardest to prove themselves worthy of a hand in cellar. Alix de Montille of Domaine de Montille in Burgundy, France, was required to study law before earning her diploma in oenology. Today she crafts the white wines for Domaine de Montille and Maison 2 Montille, the boutique négociant label she established with her brother. María José López de Heredia earned degrees in both law and theology before learning viticulture and winemaking. She is now the general manager of her family’s venerated Rioja estate R. López de Herdia. And in perhaps the world’s longest audition for the role, fourth generation Argentine vintner Laura Catena graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University then earned a degree in medicine from Stanford University before becoming part of the winemaking team at Bodega Catena Zapataher family’s winery in Mendoza, Argentina, where she is now general manager.