I have never known what to make of a month dedicated to honouring and paying tribute to women. This is just such a natural thing to do, it would appear, and for various reasons. One being that I come from a family of formidable women, including a half-Irish mother who was the first wine magazine editor in the country and is the only person I know who could recite five pages from James Joyce’s Ulysses without blinking. There were, too, the two grand-mothers with whom I would go into battle knowing that not only will I be on the winning side, but that a damn fine dish of tomato-bredie or a melktert will be prepared in victory.
Still, this August month of women allows me to pay tribute to special ladies in various fields of expertise with which I claim to be modestly familiar. Such as the South African wine industry.
No, this is not a selection of lady winemakers of which there is also an excellent grouping. I am talking of those in the marketing engine of South African wine. Women driving sales and building image for various vinous entities with insight, style, vision, flair, intelligence and personality. Experience has taken me far and wide in an industry where I have been fortunate to spend time watching some amazing woman in the marketing of South Africa’s wineries and its gorgeous, varied elixirs. So, in no special order, these are my Grand Dames of Marketing Cape Wine:
Carina Gous, Klein Zalze Wine Estate
In a profile I wrote on Carina a couple of years back, she stated that the wine industry “is who I am”. This has been forged since first joining Stellenbosch Farmers Winery in the 1990s, and then becoming the face of wine at Distell. Stellenbosch icon Kleine Zalze is currently fortunate to have her heading-up marketing where she is continuing to grow the success of this winery, soon to be under new ownership of French corporate Advini.
Strategy and a formidable approach to brand-building is backed by a statistical mind that helped her begin an initial career as scientific researcher. Carina’s head for figures and the pin-point analysing of local and global trends are complemented by an inspiring manner of turning stats into vision and cutting a clear path ahead, with a constant energetic restlessness to innovate, and keep innovating. Couple this with eloquence, a willingness to listen and share ideas, as well as natural leadership abilities, and this is a woman that can – and does – hold her place in any intelligent wine conversation in the world.
Likes scarves and Chenin Blanc.
Shirley van Wyk, Terre Paisible
The wine brand Terre Paisible that Shirley currently represents is still a bit of an unknown entity, but not for much longer. This ex-advertising professional, who also worked in the Los Angeles movie industry, made a profound effect on the fortunes of Boschendal where she led marketing before heading to her new challenge.
With a background in advertising and film, plus a true sense of what a premium brand needs to attract consumers, Shirley brings gold-sky thinking to a wine brand without losing sight of the core values that makes wine a product of the vine and the soil. She is always on the look-out for ways to present her product to wine audiences with innovation and glamour, and has the chutzpah and ability to negotiate with the direct vehicles through which these audiences are approached. Think top-end fashion as well as launching Terre Paisible at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Incredibly organised and systematic, Shirley challenges those around her with an inner-calm and clear-headedness not conducive to clutter.
Likes Chardonnay and cigars.
Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines
Surprisingly, Neil Young’s brooding hit “You Are Like a Hurricane” was not written for this female half of Creation Wines up Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge way. A product of the Cape’s legendary Finlayson family of wine was instrumental in under 15 years turning a run-down sheep farm into one of the world’s top wine places to visit. While husband Jean-Claude handles the wines and vineyards, Carolyn runs the farm’s extraordinary hospitality offering, controls the overarching brand-map with a chic eagle eye and liaises with local and international fine wine customers. Two things about this lady: No is not an option. And there is always a better and more exciting way of doing something.
You want a Creation Chardonnay tasting while committing yoga with 65 friends on Hermanus beach, with a different Riedel glass used to accompany each position… well, it shall be done. A vegan wine-pairing while open shark-cage diving at Gansbaai? Of course.
This commitment to getting things done and reaching for the seemingly impossible is backed by Carolyn’s true understanding of customer-service, something she entrenches into her staff and at a level most Cape hospitality establishments can learn from.
Likes tai chi sessions and Pinot Noir.
Deidre Taylor, Kanonkop Estate
The adage states you get talkers, and you get doers. But then there are the talkers that do. This is Deidre. Never a quiet moment with this one around. Her boss, Kanonkop-owner Johann Krige, says that if they are flying together and he is not chatting to his marketing director, Deidre has been known to turn around, plonk her knees on the airplane seat and talk to the people in the row behind. More than likely getting the new friends onto the Kanonkop allocation list.
This marketing-sales dynamo allocates and shuffles over two million bottles of Kanonkop wine annually, having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the South African and international wine markets, as well as keeping tabs – almost daily – on the perception of Kanonkop and local wine in general. Her bustling energy is backed by superior organisational skills and an ability to juggle sixteen things at once – the latter being a feature of most of these wine ladies in question. Fiercely loyal to Kanonkop, Deidre prides relationships above all else, knowing she has the product to back-up her confident sales talk.
Likes lunches and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Steffi Layer, Diemersdal Estate
The first exceptional trait characterising Steffi is that she is German and actually does have a sense of humour. Handling the international marketing for one of the Cape’s most successful brands, Steffi eases into European sales channels where she is seen as not only an ambassador for Diemersdal, but for South African wine in general. Extremely organised with one of the most uncluttered desks known to man- or human-kind, Steffi’s professional demeanour features a calmness that makes a Buddhist monk appear like a candidate for Ritalin. And her eye for detail when it comes to aspects such as labels, capsules and other things in the ubiquitous dry-goods department is as unrelenting as one could expect from German DNA.
An extremely competent wine-taster, Steffi is also a driver of Diemersdal’s sustainability ethos and another of those people for whom nothing appears too much to ask of and accepts nothing but a view purporting half-full glasses and eternal optimism about South African wine.
Likes afval and Sauvignon Blanc.
Cheers ladies. You’re worth it.
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