Ntsiki Biyela is an oddity in South Africa: She is a winemaker. She stands out not for her profession in this winemaking country but for her color. She is one of a handful of black South Africans — and surely the best known — making wine. Her story is especially unusual because she had never tasted wine until she won a scholarship to Stellenbosch University to study viniculture. Biyela has since won gold medals and four-star ratings and was named South African Woman Winemaker of the Year in 2009 for her blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and pinotage for Stellekaya, a boutique winery in Stellenbosch.
Ray Walker admits that he was more of a beer drinker before he went to Europe. He changed his mind about wine and studied Bordeaux before he tasted Burgundies. Now he is the first American to make Le Chambertin, one of the most revered names in Burgundy grand crus. A native of the San Francisco Bay area, he washed barrels at a local winery before moving to France. He learned to make wine and found a friend willing to invest $20,000, then $130,000 more. His first 11.5 barrels sold out. Now Maison Ilan, named for his daughter, exports small amounts of its exquisite wines. Read the full story in the New York Times.
In 1998 Ernest A. Bates, a former neurologist, began making wine at the Black Coyote Chateau. In 2009 his cabernet sauvignon won Double Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Wine critic Robert Parker gave the 2006 cabernet sauvignon a 90 out of 100 points. Bates says that competitions "show that African Americans can make a wine that is as good as any, and in some cases better than most." View a tasting.
Siblings Deneen, David and Coral Brown had a vision. In 1980 their parents bought 500 acres of land in the Napa Valley. In 1996 "the kids" established Brown Estate Vineyards and produced their first vintage of Napa Valley zinfandel. Wine Spectator gave it 91 points, and now fans of Brown wine include the French Laundry restaurant, Oprah Winfrey and the White House. Find Brown Estate on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter and its blog.
In 2004 Daniel Bryant produced his first vintage Dry Creek Valley Syrah at Running Tigers Wine. It has notes of blackberry jam and raspberry-chocolate torte. It's also spicy and goes with rib eye steak and fruit. It received an 89 rating from Wine Spectator and retails at $32 a bottle. Bryant produces up to 300 cases annually and plans to sell a white voigner with notes of "fruit that carries through like a honeydew melon." Learn more on Running Tigers Wine's website.
The owners of Rival Wine — Daniel Darden, 41, and his brother, James, 40 — don't own their vineyards. Yet. For now they buy wine grapes and create a blend. They recently submitted their first vintage, a 2007 Paso Robles Syrah retailing for about $45, for review by Wine Spectator. They expect to produce about 500 cases, or 6,000 bottles, this year and have already sold about 200 cases, says James. He is a certified sommelier at celebrity chef Michael Chiarello's Bottega Napa Valley Restaurant. Like Rival Wine on Facebook.
Theopolis Vineyards doesn't make wine. It sells petite sirah grapes, the base of award-winning vintages. Theodora Lee, who owns Theopolis, caught the wine bug from her law partners. In 2001 she purchased 20 acres, and five years later she had her first harvest. Robert Parker gave a wine made from Theopolis grapes a rating of 94 to 96, describing the vintage as "a great wine with terrific intensity, length and purity." Visit Theopolis Vineyards (pdf) and see Theodora Lee.
California's Sterling family has made wine for two generations. Four sons of Esterlina Vineyards' patriarch, Mario, run the business, including a lawyer, a doctor and two MBAs. Their 250-acre spread's pinot noir, dry riesling and riesling wines earn consistently high marks from reviewers. Pricing for the wines ranges from $12 to $75 per bottle, and they are served in Las Vegas restaurants such as the Bellagio, MGM and Mandalay Bay. Tour Esterlina Vineyards, and visit it on Facebook and Twitter.
Iris Rideau is a specialist. Her California Central Coast vineyard specializes in Rhône varietals including syrah, viognier, mourvèdre, roussanne and grenache. The winery also purchases chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and riesling grapes from local fruit growers. Rideau's wines have won many accolades, including from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. The historic adobe tasting room is open seven days a week. The owner's goddaughter, Caren Rideau, is assistant winemaker.
Vision Cellars founder Mac McDonald says that his parents made moonshine and fruit wine. Since his first vintage in 1997, McDonald has won many awards, producing mostly pinot noir on his 9-acre property. Wine Enthusiast has consistently scored his eight wines in the high 80s and 90s. McDonald will sell up to 4,000 cases of wine in 2010. Visit Vision Cellars on Facebook.
In 2003 Andre H. Mack, then 30, was declared the Best Young Sommelier in America by Chaine des Rotisseurs. A year later he founded Mouton Noir Wines. In 2008 Mack released Montgomery Place Napa Red. The blend of cabernet franc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon lists for $24 a bottle. It is served at Aquavit and sold at Harlem Vintage, both in New York City. Find Mouton Noir on Facebook and MySpace and follow on Twitter.