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Q&A with leading woman in wine Jolette Steyn

As the head of sales and imports at Wine Cellar, Jolette Steyn, is well-versed in the art of fine wine

By House & Garden South Africa | August 6, 2021 | Travel Leisure

For Women’s Month 2021, Wine Cellar has revealed a selection of wines from rising and established South African women in winemaking called an Insiders’ Case. The special edition mixed wine case has been curated to showcase the talent of South African women in the wine industry.

Below, Head of Sales and Imports at Wine Cellar, Jolette Steyn shares more insight into the Women in Wine campaign and her career as a successful leading woman in the wine industry. Steyn has a BSc and MSc in Oenology and Viticulture, harvest experience garnered on four different continents and her new wine label. Read on to learn more about Jolette Steyn’s story below.

What led you to a career in wine?

I always dreamt of having a creative job where I wouldn’t be office-bound, would be able to work in nature and help people. I love reading, so storytelling in any form was always on the agenda. Before getting into wine, I had been toying with the idea of studying jewellery design, fine art, marketing or medicine and, during a gap year on a train ride to Venice, I finally decided that all these passions could be channelled through winemaking. I then started my wine journey in Stellenbosch.

Have there been any challenges along the way?

Yes, as with any dream there are challenges. In the end, the times that I’ve left my comfort zone have been when magic has happened. Whilst the local industry was male-dominated, more than ever, we are seeing female farmers, winemakers, viticulturists, general managers, cellar workers and farm owners. The situation is definitely improving, and the wine world is starting to embrace diversity. It’s important to continue building a new reality where different talents, abilities and points of view are celebrated.

Tell me something about your work that you love?

Through our imports and Privé (allocation wines) I get to engage with our customers on a personal level and get to know their palates and preferences. This makes selling wine so much more fun because it becomes a conversation rather than just a transaction. I also love tasting the new wines!

What did Wine Cellar want to achieve with the Women Winemakers Insiders’ case – in terms of the selection?

It was important to show variety and include new wines as well as those with a track record. The Wine Cellar Insiders’ Case has always been built around the best value fine wines, so that was a deciding factor too.

How should wine lovers choose wine to invest in – is the wine auction scene active in SA?

Wine is a collectable art form. Some call it a time capsule and, as such, any mature wine market will naturally develop a secondary market where wines are collected and traded. This is one of the reasons Wine Cellar fine wine merchants partnered with Strauss & Co.

Which is your personal favourite wine to drink by a woman winemaker?

I have always been a big fan of Marelise Niemann’s wines. At the moment, Momento (her own project) and also Anysbos (for whom she makes the wines) are my go-to wines – they’re elegant, effortless and delicious. I love buying wines from good people and she is just about one of the nicest, most humble and gifted winemakers in the industry.

Who is someone on your radar – a woman on the wine scene about to make an impact?

Alice Verburg from Luddite fame. Alice is the daughter of Niels and Penny Verburg and she has been helping out in their vineyards and cellar in Botriver since 2017. Over the past four years she’s been travelling between the two hemispheres to gain experience. She’s just brought out her own wine – Ali in Wonderfuland Grenache 2019 – which is delicious. Look out for some other reds under her own label coming out within the next few months.

What about your own wine?

After more than a decade making wine for different wineries across the globe, I started my own label in 2018, which I am pretty excited about. The Vineyard Party is a new project and the goal is to source biodiverse, sustainably farmed vineyard parcels, while working with avant-garde vinification techniques (in this instance varying degrees of skin contact). Both I’m your Huckleberry 2018 and Here be Dragons 2018 are single-origin Sémillon from 18-year old vines on the slopes of the Helderberg in Stellenbosch. The goal was to make honest wines with minimal intervention and also try and get around having to press Sémillon, which can be quite tricky.