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How a Bright Young Star from Rural KZN Made it Big in the World of Wine

Ntsiki sat down with Ruda to share her remarkable story of challenge, perseverance, change, and triumph.

Sitting in the bus on the way to Stellenbosch, to begin her university studies, Ntsiki Biyela was amazed to see rows and rows of stunted little trees stretching out on the side of the road. She had grown up in rural KwaZulu-Natal, and had never seen anything like them before.

“What are those?” she asked a fellow passenger. Vineyards, came the reply. Ntsiki hadn’t ever tasted a sip of wine either, which may have seemed strange, given that she was enrolled for a BSc in oenology and viticulture. While her original ambition had been to study biochemistry, she had been awarded a scholarship to study the fruit of those stunted little trees, and she would prove to be a quick learner.

So much so, that she would go on to become one of South Africa’s most celebrated young winemakers, winning multiple awards at home and abroad, for the wines she produces under the name of her greatest inspiration, her grandmother, Aslina. Ntsiki sat down with Ruda to share her remarkable story of challenge, perseverance, change, and triumph.

Transcription of Ruda Talks Change with Ntsiki Biyela

Ruda: Hello, and a very warm welcome to another Talking change with Ruda on, uh, the Change Exchange. And it’s about the Change Moments when life makes decisions for you, or sometimes you manage to make them yourself and, uh, your life suddenly takes a different direction. And, uh, today I’m talking to someone whose life has been such a, an ongoing change moment – Ntsiki Biyela, South Africa’s first black woman winemaker, the owner and winemaker of Aslina wines, who’s won numerous awards for herself as a businessperson and for Hawaiians over the years. And, um, Ntsiki, you had never tasted wine until you got to university, is that right?

Ntsiki: Yep. Uh yeah, no, I hadn’t tasted wine. So, I, I remember that whenever people spoke of wine, at that moment for me, wine was, which is what I realised when I got here, it was ciders.

Ruda: It was what? Cider?

Ntsiki: Cider. That’s what I thought was wine. So, until I got here and then I found out that actually, no, those are ciders, it’s not wine.

Ruda: There’s a difference.

Ntsiki: [inaudible] So, yeah.

Ruda: I want you to just take you one step back. You grew up in a, a small village in KZN, and, but you had this aspiration to become a chemical engineer. What kind of a kid were you?

Ntsiki: I think I was a curious kid. Um, I think, when I look back from when I went to register in primary school, all I wanted was, it’s, it’s things that I see now that it was that curiosity of knowing that life is more than what I see in my village. That there’s something more than what I see here in the village. Um, so I wondered that too.

Ruda: How did you know that? Because that was, your world ended at the, the, the hills around you?

Ntsiki: Um, I think, as much as, I know that nowadays we’ve got social media, da, da, da, you go through all these things, which I’m glad we didn’t have at that time, because I think I would be over … I would’ve been overwhelmed, which is what has been happening even today with me on social media. But, um, I remember when I was growing up, the only time I could see most people who were driving cars, owning shops, most people were owning shops. When we go to town, when we go to town [inaudible]. I remember my grandfather was working as a security guard, those were, which is now, I value those with black-owned shops, but I could only see mostly white people coming, driving past the village. And like, you wonder where they’re going, where they come from. Like there was that so, so much. So, I remember some point when I got to, uh, study to, to, to grade, well, now it’s called grade R but when I got to primary school, the first class, uh, um, one of the teachers asked me what I wanted to become when I get old. And I said, I want to be ‘umlungu’ because for me ‘ukuba wumlungu’, you’re studying to be that. And because yeah, it’s like, you’re studying to be, it wasn’t something that you born [inaudible] for me, it was something you study to be.

Ruda: Yes. That says so much about our country actually, huh?

Ntsiki: Yeah.

Ruda: But then, um, the, after matric, you didn’t have, uh, there was no funding. And instead of starting on a, on a route to becoming a chemical engineer, you had to work as a domestic worker.

Ntsiki: Yes.

Ruda: That must’ve have been absolutely terrifying, um, not terrifying …

Ntsiki: Funny enough, it wasn’t. This was the thing for me. I wanted change. So, anything that was coming that was different from what I’m doing. Anything that is different from what I’m doing, that looks a step better than what I’m doing. So, if you finish matric and you don’t have a job, so, any job in my view is better than not having a job, right. So, there’s a job, domestic work, perfect. It’s in the CBD, I’m going to be in a different place, in a different space, different people, do something different and earn money. So, that was a change, for me, it was a steppingstone towards something. And I think what was very, um, positive about it, was, I was told that, okay, fine. If when you get there, you are going to, if you want to study, we’ll pay for your studies. You will do your chores after and before school and I was up for the challenge. I was like, I’ll do that. Cause all I could see, I’m going to study. If it means that I don’t sleep, then that’s fine, but I’m going to study. I’m going to, uh, be able to see my dream come true. And you know, there was a target. So, with that in mind, I agreed.

Ruda: Hmm.

Ntsiki: And when I got there, and then there was this scholarship for winemaking that came along, so …

Ruda: And what, what did you think seeing this, this possibility and it said ‘winemaking’, what, what was the picture in your head?

Ntsiki: The picture in my head was ciders, I was going to be making [inaudible]. Those were the two that I knew, those were the two wines at that time.

Ruda: And it’s the most wonderful story of you sitting in the bus and driving into the Western Cape, because this was the other thing, you were going Stellenbosch, which is a different world from rural KwaZulu-Natal, even Durban. Um, and you saw the, the, these little stunted trees all planted in rows, and you asked, “What’s that?”.

Ntsiki: Yeah.

Ruda: And those were the vineyards. So, you really didn’t have a clue what you were getting into.

Ntsiki: I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into. You know, I remember when I was talking on the phone with the people from SAA and they were telling me that it’s in Afrikaans, I was like, I will learn, you know, I was like, you know, when, sometimes not know it’s good and being curious, not know something, [inaudible], but curious about it, it’s good.  Because with that, I was like, it’s in Afrikaans, I was like, I will learn you know, so, it, it wasn’t something that was for me out of this world.

Ruda: And how did, how did you, how did you experience that? Having to learn the language before you could study hard?

Ntsiki: That was let, let me say it was, you know, when you like in an alien world, because everyone is talking, but you’ve got no clue what they are saying. Um, and you trying, and you realise that I thought we were living Afrikaans at school, but no.

Ruda: You were just expected to understand.

Ntsiki: No, but it was very like, it was whatever we learned at school, it was very just, just to know a bit, a bit, but it, when you [inaudible], listen to people speaking in their language, speaking in the language, it’s something else, something else and you realise that. I think one of the things I knew, is that I cannot fail, I cannot go back home. I have to get this, that I was, is like, I was sure this is what I want. I’m going to get it. I don’t know, in this mess, because that was a mess, that you are in a space, you, you are studying. And I remember calling my sister in Durban, and I said, I even dreamed, ‘cause this is the thing. I even, I remember calling her, I was crying. I dreamed I had failed and the university kicked me out of school, and, and she’s like, “No, it was just a dream”. And I’m like, it’s not because it’s in Afrikaans, I don’t understand anything, you know? So, you, there, all these things, ‘cause it is just too much at the same time. And I met another friend of mine who said, “You know what? There is student counselling. Go to student counselling counsel, get, you know,” and I was like, okay, great. So, I went to student counselling. Um, and the first thing I told them is that I’m going to going to fail. It’s like, it’s like I say, there’s pockets, you know? Like, okay, I’m going to fail, the university’s going to kick me out, but I’m not going to go back home. I wanna stay here. So, you guys need to, it’s like, I was clear. So, you guys need to help me. And they’re like, but there’s nothing we can do. The minute, the minute they said there was nothing they could do then, then I started crying because I’m like, so there goes my hope again, you know? And they’re like, okay, okay. Okay. Okay, fine, you have to come to counselling. I had to go to counselling every week. And then they said, if you fail, then we are going to talk to the university, they will give you a second chance and they started giving me all these other options that were happening at the university. So, this is what happened. So now I have a backup plan. Okay. Okay. So that made me count, made me count. Then I could focus, focus. So, I just need to focus and plan, so I can give everything. So, if it doesn’t work. I know that I did it, but I still have another chance to track it and then I passed my first year.

Ruda: You passed your first year?

Ntsiki: Yes.

Ruda: Bloody marvellous.

Ntsiki: That’s hell that I went through for the pass.

Ruda: And … You started working part-time while you were studying, you started working at Delheim.

Ntsiki: Yeah.

Ruda: And there too, you were, I mean, talk about the X among the Os. You were completely just different from everyone else. You were a woman, you were black, you were not Afrikaans-speaking.

Ntsiki:  Well, I think with Delheim it was different, though. Delheim, if I were to talk about, I don’t know then, ‘cause I hadn’t been to lot of wineries, but if I look now and look at Delheim brand, I could confidently say, say they were one of the first wineries that were employing a lot of black people. If I…  On the managerial positions. Um, because [inaudible] managers was a black guy, they had lot of students, like they were, I think they were already, you know, in for change. So, at that point …

Ruda: This was, this was when, about 2000?

Ntsiki: That’s about 2000.

Ruda: Yeah. Yeah. So, that is forward thinking then.

Ntsiki: Delheim  was already there. So, when I got to, ah, Delheim, it actually it felt like I’m at home. It wasn’t feeling like, oops, I’m alone and you know? I got to Delheim, and I was like, Hmm, okay. You know? And there were, it was me and my friends. And I remember one of my friends, she was like, when she arrived the following year, I said to her, go look for a job at Delheim. And I said, I know they’re going to hire you [inaudible]. So, it was, I think, yeah, no, [inaudible] in those cases.

Ruda: And that must have given you a lot of confidence and made you feel that “Yes, I can do this. I can, I can actually take my place in this world”. So, they, they did you an enormous favour. It, well, not favour, but they helped.

Ntsiki: It … it did. I remember that with the winemaker, for, um, Philip Constandius, um, Philip wasn’t much on speaking English, he was struggling with English, but there was one thing I’ll tell you that made me realise that, you know, as humans, we, we are spirits. We, we are spirits, right? So, because we are spirits, you feel when a person is with you is on your side and all that. And I could feel if it. If Philip could have done it, he would’ve taken the information and injected it to me ‘cause he wanted to teach me so much. He was, he was, even though he was struggling, even though he was with the language to speak in the language. But he was, he was, um, he was, he wanted to, I could see that he wanted, he wanted to, you know, you know, so, and, and all the lessons we got when I was at Delheim  and I remember one of the general managers, it was, um, Gerard, at that moment, Gerard [inaudible] that moment, he was going to a winemaker seminar. So, he says to me, “Come with me, let’s go to the winemaker seminar,” I was like, okay! Get excited, go to the winemaker seminar. All exciting until we got to the door. Uh, there was only men, there was one woman registering everyone at the door. So, I was like, okay, at least there’s a woman – until she finished and closed her book and left. [inaudible] And he said, “If you don’t get in, how do you think this is going to, [inaudible]”. It, that, that was the moment that was terrifying for me. That was the moment that was terrifying for me, because you know, you are on campus, you’re studying, most things are done in Afrikaans. Yes, we’ve got tutors and all that. And you, the negative, um, treatment that comes from the students at that moment, because to you get this question, “What are you doing in an Afrikaans university if you don’t understand?” It wasn’t what they’re asking us about how they were asking it. Uh, when the lecturer is trying to speak English, they’ll make noise because it’s an African Afrikaans university, you can’t do that. You know? So, you’re having that on the background and then you get to a seminar that is all white, all men, and you’re thinking, “Damn it”. That was my most terrifying moment about thinking of getting into the industry.

Ruda: Did you, did you think for the moment, maybe I’m making a mistake, maybe I, I, I should just walk away and choose a different path?

Ntsiki: I, I don’t know if I did think of that if I did, but that means I didn’t entertain it because it was one of those. But I remember that I was, and when we came back, which was very interesting when we came back from the seminar, the seminar was in Paarl. Paarl is still like very far behind and the university but obviously, it’s got students. Um, and I remember we went and passed by one of the shops ‘cause Gerard wanted to buy sunglasses. People were staring at us, and I thought to myself, okay. Initially I wasn’t aware what, I’m like. So, I remember saying, to him, I’m like, what’s happening? He’s laughing. He’s like, no, they’re saying an Afrikaans guy with a black girl. They’re saying a white girl, a guy with a white, black girl. They’re thinking what the hell, you know? And, and funny enough, when all this was happening and I could see that he was so entertained with all the reaction and it’s like, it’s like somebody saying, yeah, I want them to feel but yeah. So it was, it was very interesting. I think those were the moments of realising what the industry is about, what the industry is and the need for change for the industry.

Ruda: So, it just stiffened into your backbone. It just made you say I will.

Ntsiki: And like, it, it, I was like, yerrr. So, and then I realised that then means at Delheim I’m cushioned because I don’t see all this, you know. You don’t see all this, you don’t experience all this mm-hmm so it, it, it was one of those.

Ruda: And just directly from leaving university, you got a job as a junior winemaker at Stellakaya?

Ntsiki: Yes.

Ruda: Can you remember? I mean, getting your first job in, in any direction is a huge thing, but for you in, under those circumstances, against that background, what, what was that like? Do you remember getting what you get a telegram, a phone call or letter to say you’ve got the job?

Ntsiki: I think when I went for an interview, um, at Stellakaya, I, I remember, um, the owner, Dave Lello, when he was taking me for a cell tour, I don’t even remember what he was telling me about the things that was happening in the cellar. All I was thinking in my mind is like, just hire me because the winery looked so beautiful. Small, it was. I’m going to say Stellakaya  was everything I’ve hoped to start with. I had hoped to work in a small winery. I had wanted to, so to be in a place where I can work in all aspects of the business, one thing I was aware of when I was graduating, that I don’t know where big company can, that I was aware. I wanted a place where I can be involved in everything and so, Stellakaya was exactly that. I think, again, some of those where, like, you look back and like, God, thank you, actually directed that part. That’s what I wanted. It came exactly as if I, as if I placed an order and then it got delivered.

Ruda: And, and you…

Ntsiki: Working? Um, I had a, um, I was working involved in the vineyards, involved in the tasting room, making the wine, involved in the market, basically involved everywhere, part of the business. And one thing I learned mostly was, um, my boss was one of those people. I talk about leaders. That’s where I realised what a leader is, because he was never a person who stands behind you to say, “Okay, move this left, move”. It’s like, this is your space deal with it. You’ll come and look for me when you need help. But also, he was a person who was not, or still is not a person who says, “I cannot make coffee for people”.

Ruda: Yeah. I’ll be sitting in a meeting, and he will come through and he goes, oh, do you guys want some coffee or tea? And that for me was how human he is, how grounded he is. You know, he wasn’t a boss, he was human. Oh, he is, sorry, busy using me wise as if, but in the context is my previous course. And so, but like human that’s, that’s what I realised. And no …

Ruda: And no emphasis, no emphasis on the, on the hierarchy.

Ntsiki: No, there wasn’t…

Ruda:  “I am more important,” or “I am above you”.

Ntsiki: No, there was no emphasis on the hierarchy. No emphasis. It’s just that we know that he’s the boss – the person we need to go to when we need stuff when we were, you know, but there was no emphasis on the hierarchy.

Ruda: Yeah, there’s a team.

Ntsiki: Sorry, we were a team.

Ruda: A team. Yeah, fantastic. And then your, your very first wine, am I correct? Won a medal at the Michelangelo awards?

Ntsiki: Yes. Um, it was at Cape Town.

Ruda: What was that like?

Ntsiki: There actually, there is, wow! That day, actually, was one of the most fascinating, heart-warming days. I remember that evening, we were sitting at the table.

Ruda: Where, where was it held? Where were the awards?

Ntsiki: It was at Die Skuur. Sitting at the table, obviously, things are getting sorted and whatnot. And so, when the awards are being called out, um, I know that we were only two black people. It was me and Tarero [inaudible] was working for Nederburg at that time. Um, he’s a winemaker there. He was a winemaker there and the only black people that were at the event with waiters and waitresses. So, when, when, um, the, the awards were called, immediately when the wine was called, [inaudible], the waiters and waitresses jumped up and down – they were so excited. I was like, I was not aware that they know me. I wasn’t aware that actually, like, they were so excited and yoh! I was like, that was for me actually, heart-warming was a, oh wow. So, yeah.

Ruda: But it’s also, it’s quite a, um, how can I put it a, a responsibility you are … to, to be the first one to, to and feel in that moment that I am a role model. They are looking at me and I am opening possibilities for them that they may never have known, may never have thought would be, would be possibilities. Is there a feeling like that?

Ntsiki: Um, I think at the beginning, um, I remember when I started at Stellakaya, at the beginning, when, remember that was the first interview I had ‘cause I didn’t even know, you know, that, what, what, that, what it was. And I remember say with my boss and I said, “I can’t do this. I don’t want no journalist. I don’t, can I just be? I don’t wanna be a role model”. Yes, because my picture of a role model, it meant I’m going to need to toe a line, walk on a plank and be careful of not falling, kind of. And my boss sat down with me and his sister, his sister had, I think she was a psychologist of some sort, but she was working with him at that time when I joined the company. And then she said, they sat me down. And I remember going to their office. I sat, you know, when you come in and then I sat on the floor, I literally sat on the floor on the tiles, and I was like, I can’t do this. And then, and then he was like, “No, actually this means you’re just going to be yourself. Don’t worry about what’s happening, just be yourself and do things that you want to do that you’re happy to do. And dream your dreams. You are not doing things for someone – you’re doing it for yourself. And it’s just that people are looking at what you do”. Then I’m like, “But can’t they not look, can they just not look?”

So, yeah. So, that was there, and it was, yeah, it, it, it it’s, it’s, it’s a responsibility it’s um, but it was when I grow, with growth that I realised that actually it’s a blessing to be in that position, too, um we get our inspiration in different spaces. If I could be one of those pockets, where people get their inspiration, where people get their “A-ha!” moment, where people can get some, pick up something on whatever I’m doing that can make them turn their lives into whatever dreams they want, that would be awesome. Mm-hmm so, yeah.

Ruda: And tell me about, um, traveling for the first time, going to France, going to Italy to the wine estates. Um, how did you experience that? Did that change you?

Ntsiki: So, my first trip overseas, let’s see … There was in 2005. So, I started working in 2004. 2005, I got a trip to go to France, to do my harvest there. That was the very first trip out of the country. Um, my bosses were worried so like, I was like, yeah, they were worried.

Ruda: Worried about what?

Ntsiki: Because I’ve never been out of the country. They were worried about my safety. They were worried about how am I going to be comfortable? Am I going to be okay there? And all that. ‘Cause what I had done is, I went to one of the guys in the cooperage company and it was Demptos, and I said, “Actually, I would like to go harvest in France,” and they were like, “Okay, we’ll organise a company that we can go work with”. So, there was a company in South Africa that connected with me, with the company in France and organised for me to go and have us there. And it was just after one of my colleagues had gone to France and she had a very bad experience. So, but when I was supposed to go and my bosses were really worried, but anyways … And I was like, no, I’m going to be fine. And they’re like, immediately you feel uncomfortable, you call us like … So, um, so I went to France, I got picked up and the owner there picked me up. And, and then I remember it was the following day, he says, “[inaudible] bosses, they keep on calling to check if you are fine. Can they just accept that you’re fine?” and I was like, “Well, they’re worried because they’ve never met you. And so, like, it’s just a concern for them. It’s like, you know, and I think around that time, my boss and his friends, they visited France to watch rugby. So, rugby, it was a world cup. And so, they decided to take a day and they came and asked for me, they took a day with me to drive around France to show me a little bit of France, so yeah.

Ruda: Mm-hmm and how did you experience it? Did it, did it change your life? Um, open your horizons? What? What did it mean for you?

Ntsiki: It did. For me, one of the things is, I’ve realised I can go in any place for me to be place is beautiful because of people. You can take me to anything that you think is beautiful, but if the people are not nice, are not human, are not …

Ruda: Kind …

Ntsiki: I think that has been my experience globally in all the countries I’ve gone to. So, when I, they, I made friends, um, I remember obviously the boss was even worried. Like I’m, I’m going to sleep at a friend for the weekend. And he goes, who’s that? And he to go sit, [inaudible]. So, I’m going, you know, he’s like, I’m not taking chances with. So, um, so I, I had a good time. I think one of the things I learned was, in France, they were putting … When it’s time, time for breakfast and it’s time for lunch, they took, I’m going to call it breaking bread together seriously. Breakfast we will all sit together, have coffee, have bread, whatever that’s going to be eaten for breakfast because the winery preps breakfast, the winery preps lunch. So, lunchtime, everyone from the vineyard will all sit together, will have lunch, have some wine. And so, that experience for me was fantastic because the interaction with people and, you know, playing, and all those things, it was just making work to understand that we are human, work is the means to an end, but it mustn’t be the key. Work is helping us to be able to live a certain life or a better life or whatever that life is. So, yeah.

Ruda: Did you also, um, make a connection with, uh, the American woman, um, Helen Caplinger? Was that? Did you meet her while you were at Stellakaya? Because it sounds as if she made a difference, um, later.

Ntsiki: Yes, I met, it was Mika Bulmash actually, that I met. And so, Mika wanted to do a collaboration wine between a South African winemaker and an American winemaker, and I was the one she met in South Africa and then she connected me to Helen Caplinger. Then we made a collaboration wine and which we exported to the US. And then few years later then I made a, I made when I started Aslina, Mika still continued to be the importer.

Ruda: Ah, I see.  Uh, tell me about the decision to go on your own. That’s a huge step, huh? After 12 years of having a salary and a, and a wonderful working environment, it sounds like, and now stepping out into the big wide world yourself.

Ntsiki: Yeah. I think one thing I knew is that even while I was a student, I knew that at some point I want to start my own company. I didn’t know what to do as, at that point, but I knew that I want to start a company, when I, I was a student. So, um, hence even when I was like, I want to work in a small winery, it was more so that I can be involved in everything and learn as much and understand what it takes to actually make things work or to run a company or some. So that actually that worked, that helped. So, I then … When it was time, I think it was made of just progression when it was time, it was like, okay, now I need to jump. But that was really terrifying because like, what if, what if? What if? But at the end of the day, you’re like, what’s the difference? That was the question. What is the difference? From what I’m doing now, it was what is the difference from what I’m doing now and what I will do If I started a company. in terms of work, there was no difference. The only difference was, it’s a different brand and the only difference was that the money has to come from me.

Ruda: That’s a huge difference. I mean, you, that was the security.

Ntsiki: The security part, yes. So, that was the difference and that was the issue with the security part. So, but I was like, oh, well, it’s one of those like, “Oh well, let’s just fly. Let’s see how it’s going to work”.

Ruda: And do you remember the first time you held a bottle with the Aslina label?

Ntsiki: Yes, I do. I do. I think, yeah. I think that was, for me, it was, it was like watching Lion King. I know, it sounds weird, right? It was like watching Lion King and you know that part where the, the cub is being held up.

Ruda: Yes. Oh yes.

Ntsiki: That was the moment.

Ruda: Yeah. Oh, okay. Yeah. This is my baby, I’m presenting it.

Ntsiki: That, that was the moment. It was basically that moment of the cub. So, yeah.

Ruda: So, yes, yes. And, um, when did you realise that it will work as a business?

Ntsiki:  This is the funny part. I knew it’s going to work. I couldn’t tell but if you were to ask me then, details, how is it going to work? I didn’t know how, but I knew, it was going to work. I just didn’t know how. Yeah. I didn’t have, the, I didn’t have the financial backup. I didn’t have, I didn’t have those things that you can say, “Yes, financially, there’s money that’s going to come so, I can,” you know, but I knew it’s going to work. Um, I think, I think one of the things is, um, again, I’m grateful to have mentors. Um, I’m grateful to have friends. Remember when I was starting, uh, the High Road Winery, [inaudible]. He was like, uh, he used to call me like, “Child, what do you want? I like, I was like, well, like you’re starting a company. Financially, what is it that you need?” and I was like, and I got scared to say, okay, this is the man. ‘Cause, ‘cause I know that [inaudible], because banks don’t give you money, money, waste that up. They don’t know, you know, they want all these things that they want. And you’re like, how do you think I’m going to get those? If you don’t borrow me money. But he was like, so I told him how much I wanted. And he said, okay, fine. We’ll give you the money, pay it when you can.

Ruda: Shoo!

Ntsiki: I was like, did you just say pay when you can?

Ruda: Yeah. Yeah.

Ntsiki: So, for me, those were signs of saying someone believes in what I’m doing. Someone knows this going to work, someone, you know? And so, I like, yeah. So, The High Road winery was like one of those they were like, and then my mentors were there obviously too …  I think among my jobs that I was doing, when I started the company. One of the jobs that I, I’m going to say, I didn’t like, not that I didn’t like, it was stressing me every time I have to do it, cash flow. So much, I learned that I cannot do cash flow at night because then I can’t sleep. I couldn’t, if I’ve done it late in the evening, then in the, I’m not going to sleep until morning because my brain is trying to figure out ways, many ways that’s going to come from. So , I learned that if I have to do cash flow, I need to do it in the morning. But whenever I have to do it, I would be so stressed up because to do numbers and all those things and I’m like, but those are the key things when you’re starting a business, understanding new cash flow and keeping an eye on it, so yeah.

Ruda: So, how did you, how did you learn that? Because that was not, it’s not included in any wine making course or anything. So, did you find a mentor specifically or did you study, what did you do?

Ntsiki: Well, I had a mentor, um, and um, yeah, I had a men… Uh, not, I had, I have still, my, my mentor is a financial person, and he would be like, Ntsiki, you need to do your cash flow. Like, I knew when we talk about cash flow, ‘cause I know what’s going to be happening where, where should, what should from where. I knew how to put that thing up. And I remember a friend of mine to create for me this spreadsheet. ‘Cause I will tell him what, put this there, put and that my do this. Like, I knew how these things should fall, but now every month I need to update these spreadsheets and make sure that they, they work, and I’ll update it and look at the back statement and do all those things. So, it was a matter of just being coached there and there to say, okay, fine. For me, it was a matter of getting somebody to put a template up for me. And then I had a template, then I could work on it, but it was stressful all the time, every time I had to do it.

Ruda: I still feel that way when I have to do my tax.

Ntsiki: That’s the thing. So, but now I don’t have to do that. So, the company has grown.

Ruda: Yes. Yes. And now you, you have a team and now your life has changed. Where are we now? 2021. So it’s, it’s two decades, um, since you were that girl on the bus. Um, you have said that you, you find yourself living in two worlds.

Ntsiki: Yeah.

Ruda: Talk about that?

Ntsiki: So, so I think I I’ve come to accept basically the Western Cape for me, is a work of, a place of work. Um, living this European style life, everything you’re doing, it’s not your cultural basic stuff. But it’s not a place that grounds me, it’s a place where I put my energy to do things and create and do and create and build, you know? Now and again, I need to go home, ‘cause that’s where I get grounded. That’s where my heart gets fulfilled. That’s where my cup is filled. That’s where I basically, I just, I’m being, you know?

Ruda:  Mm-hmm …

Ntsiki: So, um, and I love that, I love that. Uh, embrace that, enjoy it. And I know when I’m starting to feel unbalanced when I’m here and I’m like trying to cram with things, I’m struggling. I’m like, “Oh whoa, go home”. Then I’ll get home. Um, go with friends, go fetch wood, go in that, like do those things that I was doing when I was growing up, those basic stuff.

Ruda: Your family, your, your original family is very important. Have been very important in your life. Hmm. Um, Aslina was your granny’s name?

Ntsiki: Yes. That’s my grandmother’s name. Yeah. Look, she, if I were to, I think, for me, there are different people in life that we describe them with different names. If I were to point out, talk about love, for me, she is love. That’s if, if I were to have something that is visible, that I’ll say, this is love for me, she is. And I think she, she taught me a lot of stuff. She was a kind of a woman who turns 20 cents to be a, something big, you know? So, she had that abundance in her hands that she would turn something that is nothing and make something. So, in that way, those are things I learned.

Ruda: And um, the physical space, you say, you want to go home, you want to be there, go and fetch wood etc. What kind of home have you made for yourself in the Western Cape? What, what does it look like? What’s your space like?

Ntsiki: It’s, it’s like a workspace.

Ruda: You don’t invest your heart there?

Ntsiki: I, I am trying, I am trying, you know, I bought a flat, um, that I’m making a home, but it’s a home because it’s a space. But when I say I’m going home, I’m never talking about the space. I’m always talking about home, where my family is, where my mom is, where my aunts are, where my cousins and sisters are, where, when I get home, we go chase chickens. Is where, like, that is where life is.

Ruda: Yeah.

Ntsiki: When I wake up in the morning at my aunts’ and the goat is like literally sitting in front of whatever on the blocks and you know, all those things where when the sun comes out early in the morning, I’m standing outside, I’m looking at it and you can hear chickens running around. For me, that is home.

Ruda: And did you bring something physical, maybe? Um, some fabric that you’ve put up somewhere or I don’t know what, um, something that you hold with, you keep with you all the time? When you’re not home?

Ntsiki: No.

Ruda: Not really.

Ntsiki: No. I don’t think what, what I’ve tried to do, but it still doesn’t. I don’t think it’s got that much of, I, I use calabashes. I’ve got calabashes that I have, um, of, and like once we get a tasting room, cause we’re in the process of getting us a tasting room. Once we’ve got a tasting room, we’re going to have calabashes in our tasting room because … You know.

Ruda: Yeah. You know, you just have to.

Ntsiki: Yes.

Ruda: Yeah. Yeah. And one last question or one last subject, uh, we usually in these conversations also talk about the personal stuff. Um, a partner maybe or whatever, but you keep your personal life completely separate. What is behind that decision and why, and why do you protect it so, so fiercely.

Ntsiki: I think for me, it is my secret space. It is my comfortable space. And so, if I start sharing it out there, I feel like I don’t have a place to run to when, when things are hard outside. I need to be outside, and when I come back home, feel that I’m home, feel that, um, with the people whom no one is going to be prying to, no, one’s going to say, “But we want to know what’s happening now,” you know? So, it’s, it’s, it’s my personal life. It’s my, I don’t think there’s something that I need to, you know, what, whatever is personal, I want to keep it personal and of business that I’m sure that people learn from, I need to give to people.

Ruda: Mm-hmm and plans and dreams for Aslina, what’s going, what can we expect?

Ntsiki: And please don’t have no expectations. But, um, we are working on, look, we, we don’t have a home of our own. And so, because we don’t have a home of our own, we are working towards having a home. It’ll be at some point to be one of the greatest things, to have our own production facility, our own cellar, our own farmer, own vineyard, our own, everything. Where we, we are walk in, you walk in at the gate, you can, um, there, there’s this thing we do in the royal village that when you come to someone’s house, especially if you’re a man and you need to stand at the gate and call the, the ancestral names and uku khuleka, ukhuleke, to come in, to be welcome into. That’s, what we wanna have.

Ruda: I can only see it happening if, if you put it out there and, uh, you really want it, it will happen.

Ntsiki: Definitely, definitely.

Ruda: Thank you so much for making time to talk to us and, um, for, for being what and who you are and congratulations, you’ve, it’s amazing.

Ntsiki: Thank you so much.

Ruda: And to, to our viewers, thank you. Thank you for watching, for listening, for sharing. Until the next time, go well.

Ruda Landman

Ruda Landman

Ruda Landman is known to many South Africans as one of the original co-anchors of Carte Blanche on M-Net, a role she fulfilled for 19 years and for which the University of Stellenbosch awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2011.

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