Cape Town - A Kuils River woman is treading where few others have in the traditional male-dominated industry of winemaking after she was recently appointed as Zonnebloem’s white winemaker.
Kelly-Marie Jacobs, 30, says she first fell in love with the trade when she read a magazine article about winemaker Debbie Thompson, now Cellar Master at Simonsig farm.
“I always wanted to be an actress. I have 10 years of speech and drama experience but when I read the article about Debbie, I knew that winemaking was my true calling,” she says.
“It was the first time I had even heard about a career as a winemaker, let alone being a woman in the field.”
Kelly-Marie obtained BSc degrees in Viticulture and Oenology at the Stellenbosch University after matriculating from Settlers High School.
Oenology is the science and study of wine and winemaking; while viticulture is the agricultural processes of vine-growing and grape-harvesting.
She worked for four years - from 2013 to 2016 - at the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, under the Elsenburg Agricultural College, where she lectured Oenology, Biochemistry and Wine Marketing, and arranged exchange programmes with the CFPPA wine school in Beaune, France.
“I started at Zonnebloem as Assistant White Winemaker in December 2016 and was promoted to Winemaker by Cellar Master, Elize Coetzee, in July 2019,” says Kelly-Marie.
She says making white and red wine is equally challenging but she prefers white because she loves how “delicate and feminine” they are.
Kelly-Marie says she travelled twice to Burgundy in France to do a harvest, and to enhance her knowledge.
“I’ve also been to Argentina in June to explore the region, culture, wines and people.”
She says the job is taxing, especially during harvest when you will find her “slogging away in the cellar”.
“We make numerous trips to the vineyard to check on and evaluate the grapes to decide on the ideal harvesting date for each block of grapes, dependent on cultivar.
“I don’t pick the grapes, but I do taste and sample. In the cellar during harvest, the hours go from 7am in the morning until you finish, whatever time that may be.”
She personally loves a Pinot Noir from Burgundy and South African Sauvignon Blanc, but says any wine in good company is a winner.
She says the winemaking industry is definitely male-dominated but females are making inroads and she knows “lots” of women winemakers.
Kelly Marie says she’s never been victimised, either as a woman, or a coloured woman, in the industry.
“Women of colour are becoming more common in the industry. For me, it’s questioning yourself and your abilities that leads to the feeling of intimidation,” she says.
“What you give out, you will get back, regardless of gender.”