Decades of determination: Reflecting on Sophia Isaacs' 30 years at Bellevue Wine Estate

Monday, 4 April, 2022
wine.co.za, Trudie Webb
Sophia Isaacs, Bellevue Wine Estate's tasting room assistant, has been at Bellevue for 30 years. Part of Bellevue's heartbeat, Sophia's climbed the ladder from farmworker to tasting room assistant.

Recently, I visited Bellevue Wine Estate to meet with winemaker Wilhelm Kritzinger. The Bellevue tasting room slowly started waking up, the pizza oven roared in preparation for the day, and I received friendly hellos as I busied myself taking photos while waiting to interview a winemaker in the middle of harvest (madness).

I asked for a glass of wine, promising that I just needed a video of someone pouring the wine (for the social wires). The Shiraz had a lovely nose and I couldn't NOT have a taste, so I attempted to distract the pourer with some friendly conversation in the hopes of not being judged about my early morning wine tasting. But Sophia Isaacs doesn't judge visitors to Bellevue. She quietly observes and keeps the tasting room going, as she has been doing for many years.

I started a casual conversation with Sophia and checked three times to make sure I heard correctly when she told me that she has been working at Bellevue for 30 years. The mother of three and grandmother started working in Bellevue's vineyards, on the Bottelary road, just outside Stellenbosch, when she was only 15 years old. A journey that started due to a lack of opportunities has turned into a story of inspiration, as Sophia climbed the ladder from farmworker to cleaner to tasting room assistant.

From farmworker to tasting room assistant

"I kept my eyes and ears open", Sophia explains simply about her success. When she started in the tasting room as cleaner, she observed and learned. Slowly she became more involved in the day-to-day running of the tasting room until she found a permanent place there as Tasting Room Assistant where she has been for nearly 20 of her 30 years at Bellevue.

Sophia Isaacs presenting a Bellevue tasting 

But Sophia isn't your average tasting room assistant. Her roots in the wine industry started in the vineyards and her experience of harvesting grapes, pruning and even planting vines has given her a much broader perspective. Guests to the Bellevue tasting room enjoy and appreciate her knowledge. She loves the history of the farm and says that the Morkel family, original owners of Bellevue, supported her and gave her the opportunity to grow and learn. 

Community involvement

Sophia's big goal is to see her children succeed. She spoke proudly about her daughter, Zadie, who had completed her National Secretarial Diploma at Boland College, crediting the Pebbles Project's various educational programmes as a big contributor to Zadie's success. Zadie now works for leading freight forwarder, Hillebrand, in Stellenbosch. Talk about a golden thread! In 2009 JF Hillebrand sponsored the opening of a Pebbles-run créche at Bellevue. Zadie was one of the first group of learners who benefitted from Pebbles' School Leaver Programme and went on to complete her tertiary studies.

The Isaacs women definitely don't let opportunities pass them by and actively work towards a better future, something that is sure to inspire those around them. Sophia's youngest, currently in primary school, is part of the Pebbles After School Club programme and Sophia didn't have a speck of doubt when she said that with Pebbles' help, her youngest's future is also looking bright. 

When asked if she thinks she is a role model to women in her community, she answers plainly: "They know where I come from". A comment from Pebbles Project on a Facebook post about Sophia shows the commitment Sophia has towards her community:

"A true community leader who at times donates her tips and instead chooses to pop them into the Pebbles Project box in the tasting room."

The love for her community is also something about Sophia that stands out to Tasting Room Manager, Josh Smit. "She is a true inspiration to me and the Bellevue family", Josh remarks. 

Writer Edith Wharton said: "There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it". We need more bright candles like Sophia.

There are plenty of good news stories about upliftment and transformation in the South African Wine Industry. The #wineforgood website, launched by wine.co.za in June 2016, hosts all the positive stories from the winelands, of which there are plenty. wine.co.za has made April a focus for #wineforgood stories. Share them far and wide and spread the good news about South African wine.

Sophia Isaacs, tasting room assistant at Bellevue Wine Estate
Sophia Isaacs, tasting room assistant at Bellevue Wine Estate



Pebbles Project at Bellevue
Pebbles Project at Bellevue



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