South African Wine Meets the New York Palate

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Ntsiki Biyela is South Africa’s first black female winemaker; she was selected as Woman Winemaker of the Year in 2009. Photo courtesy of Stellekaya Winery.

If your love of wine goes beyond Carlo Rossi and Two-Buck Chuck, you surely know this already: the wine world is much, much broader than California and France. Take Uruguay, New Zealand, New York, even outliers like Russia and Iowa — it’s a global village, with a robust and immense selection of wines on offer.

But while countries like South Africa have been producing wine for decades, achieving global distribution — and recognition — is another matter. Enter Wine for the World, a socially conscious New York company that’s imported wines from emerging markets since 2013.

Last week at Madiba in Fort Greene, Wine for the World poured a stellar collection of South African wine at an elaborately paired dinner. All wines were produced by Ntsiki Biyela, the 37-year-old wunderkind who runs Stellekaya Winery in Stellenbosch. Biyela is South Africa’s first black female winemaker; she was selected as Woman Winemaker of the Year in 2009.

The feast at Madiba showcased a range of Stellekaya wines, from the refreshing Chenin Blanc (served with a grapefruit and avocado-based Shebeen salad) to the deeply complex Orion (served with prawns and saffron rice). Biyela was on hand, answering questions and charming the crowd with personal anecdotes.

In 1998, South African Airways sponsored a winemaking scholarship competition. Before that moment, Biyela hadn’t considered wine much at all; she planned to study chemical engineering. In fact, she had never even tried one sip of wine. “I knew only cider and beer,” she laughs.

Biyela won the competition handily, lucky for us. Yet despite much acclaim and press attention (CNN, New York Times, etc), her wines have yet to make a major splash in the U.S. Wine for the World founder Mika Bulmash hopes to remedy this. “We really want [Biyela] to have a strong market presence here,” she says.

Bulmash, who comes from an international development background, has been tireless in promoting Stellekaya wines to a wide range of New York restaurants and retailers. Bulmash also helped broker a connection between Biyela and esteemed Napa winemaker Helen Keplinger; the two have now collaborated.

This is Wine for the World’s mission — bringing us wine we may never try otherwise, from some of the world’s lesser-known artisan winemakers. The company pledges to only work with producers that meld quality with sustainability and social consciousness (it was not long ago that this last quality was in short supply in South Africa).

Bulmash plans to introduce wines from Brazil and Uruguay in coming months; the goal is to expand imports without compromising quality. If their current approach is any indicator, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Jesse Hirsch

Formerly the print editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan, Jesse Hirsch now works as the New York editor for GOOD magazine.

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