Zinaschke Steyn is a winemaker who grew up in Klerksdorp in North West province. After matriculating in 2005, she began her working life as a proofreader for a printing company in Worcester, but she always planned to move south, setting her heart on a BSc in chemical engineering at Stellenbosch University to become a brandy-maker.
But, as it tends to do, life intervened and, after close to two years in the Cape, it seemed that winemaking would be better suited to Steyn’s personality. She’d be working more closely with the elements, getting her hands dirty, being more physically involved from the get-go and tackling each vintage as an entirely new project — and this excited her.
“It’s the anticipation of new challenges, new parameters and new responses every year. That state of flux appeals to me. So, in 2007 I met up with oom Willie van Zijl at Elsenburg, and the rest is history.”
She went on to make wine for Overhex Private Cellar, followed by KWV and GlenWood Vineyards, after graduating in 2010 with a BAgric degree in winemaking and viticulture from Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute in Stellenbosch. In 2018, she was offered the job as assistant red-winemaker at Nederburg, catapulting her into the role of this award-winning Paarl winery’s fully-fledged red-winemaker.
The Western Cape’s climate is similar to that of the Mediterranean, making it well-suited to growing wine grapes — so it’s no wonder that South Africa is ranked seventh among the biggest wine-producing countries on the planet, according to 2020 data by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine. South Africa’s wine industry consists of many sectors, from agriculture and grape growing to winemaking, wine tourism and hospitality.
Steyn believes that all these factors contribute significantly to job creation and skills development that ultimately benefit our people and the economy. The wine industry in South Africa has traditionally been a male-dominated business, but she is a part of the paradigm shift that is slowly seeing more and more women enrolling for winemaking courses and degree programmes, entering the industry and making a real impact.
She says: “As a female winemaker, you should be adaptable and innovative. It’s important to start from the bottom and not be scared to get your hands dirty. You need to understand and trust the process, while building strong relationships with your team members.”
To take the bounty of nature, work with it and nurture it into something special and delicious is the most invigorating aspect of winemaking for Steyn. She believes that people should be happy in their work and she finds nothing more satisfying than witnessing a consumer enjoy a wine that she’s had a hand in making.
Asked about her proudest achievement so far, she replies: “Being appointed as Nederburg’s new red-winemaker — no doubt!”
It’s important to start from the bottom and not be scared to get your hands dirty.