FORMIDABLE ACHIEVEMENTS

Woman’s Day celebrates the formidable achievements of women. Today, it is fitting to feature enterprising and accomplished women in wine including a master distiller in an industry that has spanned centuries in the Cape, all of whom have triumphed in what was originally a definite male preserve.

Remarkable Marlene Bester has been with Van Ryn’s Distillery winning awards over a number of years ensuring the standard of our world-class brandies remains in a premier position.

Nederburg, established in 1791, is one of the most iconic wine estates in South Africa, a treasure house of knowledge passed on through decades where young winemakers such as Jamie Williams are encouraged to play a valuable part, and over time achieve their own level of creativity.

Andiswa Mapheleba is certainly a most enthusiastic member of the Pongrácz team and has many opportunities to grow within this much-celebrated Méthode Cap Classique label, a great South African success story.

Kelly-Marie Jacobs, Zonnebloem’s winemaker of white wines, has quite a responsibility as Zonnebloem is very much a valuable part of South Africa’s rich wine heritage, however, Kelly-Marie has shown she is up to it!

We are enormously proud of all the women in wine who are helping to keep the tradition of warm welcoming hospitality alive in the Cape.

2020 Q&A MARLENE BESTER, VAN RYN’S MASTER DISTILLER

What was the motivation for you to become a distiller in what was previously a male dominated profession?

My motivation was the challenge to learn something new and to push myself to do something different. While finishing up my MSc in Wine Biotechnology, I saw the ad for a process manager at a whisky distillery and I thought it sounded very interesting, even though I knew nothing about distilling. I applied and was lucky enough to get the job. There I was trained by an amazing guy who had years of experience in distillation and a passion for it. He was my inspiration to learn all I could about distilling.

Could you tell us what was the defining moment in your career up until now?

The defining moment in my career was when I fell in love with how spirit products are being made and the time and effort that goes into it. It changed how I looked at my job. It went from just being just a job to loving what I do. The big moment was when I was appointed Distillery Manager for Van Ryn’s Brandy Cellar. I fell in love with the products and what it stands for. It shouts of history, quality and passion. I had big shoes to fill to keep the legacy of Van Ryn’s producing some of the best brandies in the world. This however only inspired me to give my best and always to try and do better.

Do you have a further goal?

I would love to do more around educating people about the amazing brandies that we have in South Africa and to change their perception of brandy. I want to showcase these amazing products and get people to try it.

Has your taste in spirits changed over the years?

Yes, it definitely has changed from not drinking spirit products at all to loving it. Because I had my training in whisky to start with and then moved to brandy, I love both products. They are vastly different but both stunning in their own right. After all these years in the industry, I now appreciate different spirit products for what they are.

What are your thoughts on mentorship and how has it helped you in your career? 

Mentoring is something we should focus on a lot more. It helps a lot when you start in an industry that you have someone who can be a sounding board and help you in the right direction. A mentor can also keep you motivated in times when you are struggling. It is a great way to assist young people who want to get into the industry.

What is your go-to dish when you have friends over and which Van Ryn’s spirit do you like to serve and why? 

This time of the year the dish will have to be a lamb curry that I serve with Van Ryn’s 15-year-old brandy. The spicy notes of the brandy complement the curry and vice versa. One of my other all-year-round favourites to make is brandy pudding with a good shot of Van Ryn’s 10, a match made in heaven, something people always come back for.

2020 Q&A JAMIE WILLIAMS, NEDERBURG ASSISTANT WHITE-WINE MAKER

What was the motivation for you to become a winemaker in what was previously a male dominated profession?

Defying the odds. My entire life has been about defying the odds and rising above my circumstances and winemaking is no different. Work hard and get noticed was my motto and that is exactly what I think I have achieved in this industry.

Could you tell us what was the defining moment in your career up until now?

Being at the Veritas Awards and walking up onto stage to receive a gold medal for wine that I played a big role in making was definitely a game-changer for me. You want people to enjoy your wine and that already is enough, but winning an award. That takes it to the next level.

Do you have a further goal?

Definitely, I want to play a role in giving those from underprivileged backgrounds, like myself, the opportunity to grow and prosper in the wine industry whether it be hospitality, viticulture or winemaking. 

Has your taste in wine changed over the years? 

Yes. I did not know much about tasting white wine as I was a red wine fanatic, however being directly exposed to the elegance, passion and hard work of white wine, what it has to withstand and in how many forms it can take, I have gained more of an appreciation for white wine. I enjoy a lightly wooded Chenin blanc or Sauvignon blanc and Riesling.

What are your thoughts on mentorship and how has it helped you in your career? 

Mentorship is very important and I think that no successful person no matter the industry they are in, has become successful without a mentor. I see mentorship more as collaboration as each person can learn from the other, no matter how experienced the other might be. Having a good mentor is very important as you need guidance and an experienced individual has walked a similar path you are on so; their advice is crucial to prepare you for what is to come and how to solve problems.

What is your go-to dish when you have friends over and which wine(s) do you like to serve and why? 

Honestly, I love snacks and will usually prepare canned oysters or mussels on crackers. If I want to cook a meal, I usually go for either beef and cheese lasagne or fried chicken with a green salad. I can easily pair these dishes with either the Nederburg Heritage Heroes The Anchorman 2018, a wooded Chenin blanc or an easy-drinking white wine, like The Winemasters Chardonnay 2018.

2020 Q&A ANDISWA MAPHELEBA, PONGRÁCZ WINEMAKER

What was the motivation for you to become a winemaker in what was previously a male dominated profession?

I’ve always been one to explore or delve into different avenues than what normal (if such a thing really exists) human beings would. Furthermore, I have always taken a keen interest in science, biology and art. Thus, winemaking is a perfect fit since, in essence, it is a merger of all three disciplines. So, what started off as a curious itch, turned into a passion.

Could you tell us what was the defining moment in your career up until now?

Being introduced into the Cap Classique arena evolved my career path in the industry. Having not ever been exposed to the making of sparkling wine (besides my university studies), I felt a sense of belonging.

Do you have a further goal?

I am extremely passionate about education. Studying further to do my doctoral degree would be a dream come true. 

Has your taste in wine changed over the years?

Definitely! The evolution of my palate went from enjoying sweeter, mass-produced wines, to slowly appreciating (through the exposure of course!) drier styles, and to currently enjoying and appreciating an array of wine styles. 

What are your thoughts on mentorship and how has it helped you in your career? 

Mentorship is extremely important in any industry, otherwise, there would not be any progression. It is the duty of the experienced (I won’t say older ) to not only pass on the knowledge but to also provide support and offer a platform to exchange info (you’re never too old or experienced to learn) for both parties to engage, innovate and grow. Doing so empowers the mentees; giving them a purpose and motivation to strive to do their best.

What is your go-to dish when you have friends over and which wine(s) do you like to serve and why? 

Fresh line fish with a creamy sauce, boiled potatoes and fresh broccoli. The wine would be a slightly wooded Chenin blanc or our Desiderius Pongrácz (on a special day).

2020 Q&A KELLY-MARIE JACOBS, ZONNEBLOEM’S WINEMAKER OF WHITE WINES

What was the motivation for you to become a winemaker in what was previously a male-dominated profession?

My initial motivation back when I was a doe-eyed 13-year old, was the excitement of a seemingly unknown and untapped professional choice that most of my peers had not even thought of. I was quite a novice to the wine industry, being 13-years-old and not of legal drinking age at the time, but as I grew older, I soon came to realise that the wine industry is far more than just wine. It is a sector that employs thousands of people and families; it is a profession that allows you to express yourself and have that expression of self-reach the thousands of people that buy and enjoy your wine; the industry teaches us about standing together, working tremendously hard and creating a culture that honours the men and women who built our wine industry, but still is very much about paving the way for future generation of winemakers and viticulturists.

Could you tell us what was the defining moment in your career up until now?

January 2013, I was appointed as Cellar Technologist at the Elsenburg Agricultural College. There I was, a timid post-graduate student, tasked with the shaping of young minds when mine was still a bit mushy after all the post-grad celebrations I had been to in the past few months. Elsenburg and especially the people I worked with, really helped me to define not only what kind of winemaker I wanted to be, but also the type of person I strived to be. Out of all the lessons I learned throughout my years, one of the most valuable was the power of saying, “Yes” – Often we say no, not because we are too busy or already have 10 other things going on, but because we are afraid of the expectation we are saying yes to. Learning to be confident in my ability was a real turn point for me.

Do you have a further goal?

I want to produce solidly good wine, consistently. I do want to win accolades someday, be recognised, but for now, I still have a while to go and a lot to learn – I want to focus on honing my skills as a winemaker and produce quality wines and also expand on my theoretical knowledge of wine.

Has your taste in wine changed over the years?

Yes, definitely. I think we all kind of start out at the sweeter side of the spectrum before making our way to drier styles of wine. What really got me to expand my palate was learning about different winemaking techniques, various styles of wine, in different countries, and the sheer number of cultivars in the world! Tasting wines from different countries have always seemed very romantic to me – the ability to travel through a wine.

What are your thoughts on mentorship and how has it helped you in your career? 

I believe that mentorship is very valuable in our industry. Looking to those who came before us for guidance, but also looking to each other, for new ideas, thinking and just plain comradery, as well! I only think one can benefit through the sharing of knowledge, experience and a few old stories of mischief – which our wine industry has no shortage of!

What is your go-to dish when you have friends over and which wine(s) do you like to serve and why? 

If I had to choose only one white and one red wine to serve – for the white, I would choose a Stellenbosch, warmer climate wine, like the Zonnebloem Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is layered in aromas of passion fruit, lime and gooseberry – the perfect aperitif wine, but also great with delicate food choices. For red, most definitely a Burgundy Pinot Noir – an elegant, aromatic and wickedly charming choice. Everything you would want in wine, as well as a dinner party hostess!

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