Raising a toast to women in wine

Continuing our celebration of all things female this month, we take a look at some of the most prominent and inspirational women in wine who have been paving the way for others like them to flourish. 

“It gives me immense pleasure to work hand-in-hand with these champions! I’m always grateful for the opportunity to share the knowledge and skills I’ve gained over the past 15 years.”

The Women of Nederburg

Nederburg’s cellar is headed up by the formidable Lizelle Gerber, a veteran with more than 15 years’ experience in the local wine industry. Ask her what drives her, and she’ll unequivocally tell you that it’s mentorship. Not one to shy away from getting her hands dirty, this self-proclaimed tomboy leads an incredible team of talented winemakers and cellar workers. 

Cape Flats-born Jamie Williams, Nederburg’s feisty assistant white-winemaker was recently featured as part of Wineland magazine’s 30 Under 30 Club
Zinaschke Steyn, Nederburg’s assistant red-winemaker, hails from Klerksdorp and moved to Worcester after matriculating in 2005.

Jamie’s journey into wine started some time before that. In her second year of a BSc with specialisation in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch, she undertook a module on wine biotechnology. “I was captured!” she declares. “I’ve always loved science, but also have an artistic side.

Zinaschke says she’s a keen shopper, but only when it comes to Agrimark, a popular one-stop-shop for a wide range of agricultural and lifestyle products!  “I can browse in my local Agrimark where I now reside, in Franchhoek, for hours,” she laughs.

“To date, women have made a significant contribution to the Cape’s wine industry without receiving recognition or benefiting from the industry’s business opportunities,” – Beverly Farmer, founding member and the chief executive. 

Women in Wine: from social club to pioneers

Women in Wine is South Africa’s first black owned company with women that have experience and skills in marketing, wine analysis, finance, development and training, and social responsibility. The one thing the partners all had in common from the beginning was that they all “enjoy a glass of quality wine.”

Women in Wine was established without the large capital investment normally needed for a traditional vineyard that usually requires a vast cellar and rows of vineyards stretching into the distance. Instead, these ladies have entered into partnerships with existing cellars, as well as with bottling and packaging companies, to produce their wine.

Screenshot 2020-08-24 at 15.32.58
“Success is bred by Focusing on the Smaller Things” – Erika Obermeyer

Erika Obermeyer – a tale of triumph over adversity

You don’t have to know much about wine to appreciate the story of powerhouse winemaker, Erika Obermeyer.

She’s been described as a ‘superhero’ by prominent wine writer, Daléne Fourie, who said, “it would seem to be that in order to become a superhero, you’ve got to suffer a bit” – something Erika certainly has done, but before we cue the violins and pull out the tissues, meet the inspirational woman behind Erika O wines.

Her career started at Kleine Zalze before she was chosen by Mr Graham Beck himself to become the winemaker behind the brand’s still wine range, a position she held for twelve years. As a woman in a male-dominated industry with a reluctance to change, Erika only has praise for the men she has worked alongside. She holds fond memories working with Graham Beck and his wife, with whom she shared a close bond up until they passed.

Working in Franschhoek at Graham Beck’s cellars was something that made Erika content with life. “I was so in love with my job, and it came through when I started winning awards. I remember locking the cellar every day and looking at the mountains, thinking, someone pinch me. I poured everything into my wines.” After just a year of working there, Mr Beck told Erika, “I want you to start your own wine label,” something she says “was so visionary of him, and at the time I said ‘no, that’s crazy! I love my job.'” However, all good things must come to an end. When Graham Beck stopped producing still wines, Erika lost her cellar home and realised that she needed to find what makes her happy again. She recalls Mr Beck’s motto of, “there’s no point in anything in life if it doesn’t make you happy” – and says this is something that has stuck with her wherever she goes.

By 2016, Erika had hardly any sight in her left eye and only a little bit more in her other. She couldn’t drive, had no real idea of what to do, as her future in wine was uncertain under the Graham Beck brand after Mr Beck’s passing. She had to move out of her cellar, which she recalls “was like a divorce, and I had to give up everything I had worked for. It felt like the carpet had been pulled from underneath me.”

Without a cellar home, without her own vineyards, without her sight initially, and with everyone telling her to stop making wines, Erika persevered, sourced grapes, and launched Erika O wines. She also had her first cornea transplant in between this all. After her surgery, she nearly lost her eye and her recovery of an estimated seven months turned into two years and many operations later.

Yet during this time, she still managed to create wines using varietals and blends that she truly loved and believed in. She was no longer producing commercial wines, she was making wines of her own, wines that were “a reflection of the vineyards and farmers behind it.” The world noticed – even though Erika didn’t expect it to. Up until December 2018, Erika still had no permanent cellar space or venue to host wine tastings. While her rented farmhouse in the idyllic Banhoek Valley certainly had the views, it was no space to welcome guests. She needed a home where her wines could be enjoyed in the same way that they were made – looking at the mountains and reflecting on their natural beauty.

After driving past De Zeven’s gates every day, Erika decided to introduce herself to the woman who created this masterpiece, Siobhan Meyer. The two fellow entrepreneurs hit it off immediately, and naturally, De Zeven became the tasting room of Erika O wines. Since then, Erika has signed many importers and sold cases of wine from the comfort of De Zeven’s lounge.

What’s next for Erika?

It takes an indomitable spirit and bold vision to do what Erika has done over such a short time, but she is still expanding her range of wines. Wine writer Janice Robinson summed up Erika’s journey perfectly when she wrote, “introducing a brand and wine without a history, an estate or heritage presents a unique challenge. It does, however, offer the opportunity to explore the wine’s soul, its magical origins and the philosophy that brings all the elements of great winemaking together.” Erika Obermeyer is a force to be reckoned with, and her love for what she does translates in the bottle. She has an aura of positivity and warmth that you can’t help but gravitate towards, and we encourage you to meet her during your stay at De Zeven.

In the future, she hopes to add a chardonnay to her range, saying, “I would like to make a chardonnay which showcases the knife’s edge between fullness and weightlessness. Where the broadness of fruit, acidity and texture meets. A chardonnay with both power and balance.” As a female winemaker, Erika believes that there are some things that women can do better. “We are very much more detail-focused and we can multi-task. In winemaking, we have a sense of knowing where things could go wrong.” During your stay with us, experience a wine tasting with the unpretentious and approachable Erika Obermeyer and taste what she means by this.

Women in wine are the perfect pairing.

You can order Erika O wines here for delivery.