The Rise of Women Winemakers in the Breedekloof Wine Valley

It comes as no surprise that some women find it hard to start a wine career in what is, in essence, a male-dominated industry. But have times moved on for the better?

Last week I attended the official media launch of the Breedekloof Chenin Blanc Initiative at True Italic in Bree Street, Cape Town. If you are at all familiar with the Breedekloof valley, you would know that decades ago you would seldom find women in a wine making position. In fact, back in those days, you would only find women on farms if they were married to male farmers!

After tasting through the wines of the “Breedekloof Makers”, consisting out of nine male and three female winemakers, one thing became apparent: it’s no longer just men shaping the Breedekloof Valley’s vinous landscape.

In celebration of Women’s Day in South Africa, we take a look at three women who are on the leading edge of the region’s wine culture.

Lieza van der Merwe from Merwida

Van der Merwe is one of the surnames synonymous with the Breedekloof Wine Valley. Lieza van der Merwe is the winemaker at Merwida, a sixth generalion family farm owned by her father Schalk and uncle Pierre. With tons of work experience at wineries in California and Europe, Lieza believes that Chenin Blanc is the one variety with which she can show the world what South Africa does best in terms of white wine.

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“South Africa is described in wine writing circles as the most exciting wine country in the world, and I believe the fact that we are so great at making Chenin Blanc is one of the reasons for this accolade.”

The wine to try: Merwida Chenin Blanc 2014

Elizma Visser from Olifantsberg

Olifantsberg is situated on the Breedekloof’s Brandwacht mountain slopes, and is owned by Hollander Paul Leeuwerik, who is making great strides in progressing towards producing excellent Rhone-style wines. Elizma Visser joined the Olifantsberg team in 2015. This down to earth Elsenburg-trained winemaker has worked in France and Italy, before returning to South Africa.

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“I have always wanted to manage the vineyards and make the wines. It’s a dream come true.”

The wine to try: Olifantsberg Chenin Blanc 2015

Mariëtte Coetzee from Stofberg Family Vineyards

The legacy of the Stofberg family started in 1763 when Corporal Jacobus Stofberg set foot in Cape Town. The family grew over the years to become well established wine farmers in the Breedekloof valley. A couple of years ago, third generation winemaker Mariëtte Stofberg Coetzee, decided it’s time to make their own wine from the farm’s exceptional grapes and so the journey started.


mariette coetzee stofberg e1470670900129 The Rise of Women Winemakers in the Breedekloof Wine Valley

“Stofberg Family Vineyards originated when the family, who shares a passion for viticulture and wine decided to stand together.”

The wine to try: Mariëtte Chenin Blanc 2015

For most of its history the South African wine industry has been dominated by male vintners, but a handful of women have been instrumental in growing and shaping the country’s wine culture. A growing number of them are pushing the envelope and redefining what it means to make wine in Africa today.