40 Under 40: Kelly-Marie Jacobs

Pint-sized Kelly-Marie Jacobs has the kind of magnetic personality that makes you feel like you have known her forever. She is a great conversationalist and the tangible definition of high energy at any given moment.

Life is busier than ever for this bubbly assistant-winemaker where she slogs away under the Zonnebloem wine label. With harvest number eight drawing near, it is obvious that Kelly-Marie is meticulously building a solid foundation for her career since she obtained her BSc degree in Viticulture and Oenology in 2012 at the University of Stellenbosch. She earned her wine stripes by interning at iconic wine estate Waterkloof during the 2011 harvest, managed sales and logistics at Stellakaya and lectured at Elsenburg Agricultural College before assuming her current role at Adam Tas for Distell.

When Kelly-Marie’s not hanging out in the cellar, this born and bred Capetonian can be found advocating her love for wine and wine culture to those around her. We talked wine and world domination - which seems very likely, if you ask me.

What vintage are you?


If you could bottle yourself, what would the tasting note be?

Sassy, with superb ageing potential. Spit on the inside.

What sparked your love for food and the drink?

Food and wine brings people together. It’s a shared moment of pleasure that fuels conversation and envelopes you in a blanket of sensory bliss.

Aliens comes down from space and you must explain to them in one bottle of wine what it is that you do – what do you make?

Behold! The drink that makes you an excellent performance dancer!

What is still on your wine bucket list?

La Tâche – I’ve heard it’s like a party in your mouth!

Tell us about your lucky break?

Being able to join Elsenburg straight out of University. It gave me the opportunity to continue learning, while teaching others. It offered so much exposure to the industry and all the facets within the wine industry, and how they interlink.

What makes a wine fine?

Time, truth and heart.

What has been your greatest mistake?

Before graduating and even after gaining my qualification, I was very unsure of myself and sometimes felt very inadequate. It made me miss a few opportunities!

What is your biggest motivator?

Myself – there’s always room for improvement!

How do you measure success?

The effect that I have on others. It is, after all, the most valuable currency that there is.

What inspires you?

As cliché as it may sound, everything does! It’s my goal to find beauty within each day. A scarlet sky; the rustling of leaves; the smell of rain. Just knowing the fact that you can do anything you put your mind to and that you control your limitations – no one else.

It’s Wednesday night at 18:30. What’s for dinner?

Ask my Mom.

If you weren’t making wine, what would you be doing?

Selling wine. I really enjoy the aspect of wine marketing and it really does bring me joy to educate and converse with people in a fun way, while tasting wine, of course!

What do you rate as your proudest achievement?

My current position. The volumes and products that I am responsible for, I never would have thought that it would be possible for me, but each day is a challenge and there’s always opportunities to learn a new skill.

What is a big no-no to you when it comes to making wine?

Disregarding the grape itself and forcing a wine to be something that it is not, rather than to guide a wine to its full, individual potential.

What would you like to achieve over the next 15 years?

World domination?! I would like to have made a substantial and consequential positive difference within the South African wine industry. Married, maybe.

Who or what is your idea of oenological brilliance?

Winemakers who never stop playing, experimenting, moving and collaborating in order to seek the full potential that our land has to offer.

Where are you happiest?

Anywhere where I am surrounded by the people that I cherish most.

What flavours inspire taste memories for you?

The taste of oeufs en meurette. Poached eggs, in a red wine sauce, takes me right back to picnicking the Grand Cru vineyards of Montrachet!

Biggest vice?

Online quizzes.

What are the biggest challenges we face in the South African wine industry? Where would you like to see us go and grow over the next ten years?

The water scarcity raises major concerns. Planting more Mediterranean cultivars and giving our terroir more of a platform to showcase itself.

Your cellar is underwater. You can save one bottle of wine from your collection – what do you choose?

1984 Chateau Libertas

What is your favourite food and wine memory?

Every night I spent in Burgundy during my 2015 harvest in Beaune and Pommard. The love and respect for food and wine that I witnessed while I was there, is something that significantly changed me and showed me the type of winemaker and person that I want to be going forward.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? What would you cook and why?

Joe Bastianich – a MasterChef USA judge and qualified winemaker. He would most definitely do the cooking – Italian style pasta, paired with a few bottles of Sangiovese, Barbera and Nero d’Avola!

What is the best and worst thing about working in the wine industry?

Best is the people that you meet along the way. Worst is how extremely competitive it is.

Looking back, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

You is smart. You is kind. You is important.

Kelly-Marie Jacobs