International award-winning vintner and resident winemaker at the Stellekaya winery in Stellenbosch for many years, Biyela is now running her own show.
She grew up in Mahlabathini, a small village in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Biyela’s mother was a domestic worker, so she was raised by her grandmother, who had a powerful influence on her life. Biyela named her brand Aslina to honour her late grandmother, who was her pillar of strength.
After matriculating, Biyela worked as a domestic to raise funds for her tertiary education. Her efforts paid off, because today the savvy entrepreneur has a BSc in Oenology from Stellenbosch University. “Initially, I wanted to do Chemical Engineering, but when I received a scholarship from SAA I decided on a career change,” she explains.
Biyela was named Landbouweekblad’s South African Woman Winemaker of the Year in 2009.
Since her career began in 2004, Biyela’s goal has been to start her own company. “I always knew that at some point I would be independent,” she says.
She explains that the difference between being a winemaker and a producer is that winemaking is a profession: you study it and make wine as a job. Being a producer, however, means creating and owning your own brand.
“I decided to step out and do my own thing, which makes me a winemaker and, at the same time, the producer of my own brand,” she explains.
Biyela says that being a winemaker at Stellekaya for 12 years and collaborating with American winemakers was a stepping stone towards her goal: “I gained a lot of experience while being a winemaker at Stellekaya. Through interaction with clients and being hands-on in the market, I also learnt the business side of things and, in a nutshell, how to run a company,”
Biyela has visited Italy, France and the United States, where she enhanced her expertise.
Her winery produces a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bordeaux blend. Currently, Aslina wines can only be purchased directly from Biyela as she’s still trying to penetrate the local market. The wine is exported to Denmark, the UK and Germany.
Her journey has taught Biyela the importance of focus and keeping your eye on the prize: “Know where you want to go. Even if you go in circles you will end up where you want to be.”
She also acknowledges the importance of having a good support structure: “I have a tribe that supports me. When times are tough I know I have friends and family that will hold me down.”