Zonnebloem’s Powerful All-Women Winemaking Team

Zonnebloem’s Powerful All-Women Winemaking Team

Posted on: 7 August 2020

Marie Furter: Zonnebloem’s first female winemaker

When Zonnebloem’s first female winemaker, Marie Furter made her debut in the 1940s, winemaking was reserved solely for men. Yet her natural affinity for making wine led to her maiden vintage in 1940 to earn three trophies at the Cape Wine Show achieving the highest total score of any winemaker at the competition, a feat she repeated again in 1942.

Winemaking internationally has come a long way since then and in South Africa, the landscape far more diverse. Today, Zonnebloem’s all-female winemaking team of Elize Coetzee, cellar master, Bonny van Niekerk, red-winemaker, Kelly-Marie Jacobs, white-winemaker and viticulturist Isabel Habets, are continuing the inspiring legacy that Marie has left behind.

Marie’s journey as a winemaker started rather unexpectedly when her father, Frederick Furter died and she had to take over the reins. At the tender age of 21 and with no formal qualification, Marie catapulted Zonnebloem’s wines to international award-winning status.

When Marie’s brother-in-law, John de Villiers, bought the farm after her father’s death, she taught him the art of winemaking. By 1946 he was on top of the winemaking world and became known as the “Wine King of the South Africa”. During his time Zonnebloem wines were awarded more than 600 trophies and medals. Tragedy struck when John died in a car accident in 1948 and the extraordinary Marie yet again trained a novice, this time her husband Maurice whom the media crowned as the second “Wine King of the South Africa”.

The challenges faced by Marie during those trying years can only be imagined but today with the acceptance of females into every imaginable career, Zonnebloem’s group of powerful women say that they are definitely treated as equals in the industry and certainly don’t have to justify their seat at the table. They believe that as with any career environment, the challenges of winemaking are most certainly not gender specific. Harvest is tough for everyone – both mentally and physically – and the reward of producing a beautiful wine and seeing someone enjoying it, outweighs any challenge.

Read more about how they each experience life as a female winemaker and viticulturist!


Why do women make such great winemakers in your opinion?

Elize: On average woman are prone to attention to detail maybe more. I think we are the softer sex, and therefore more in tune with our senses and emotions. Maybe we are not better but just deserving the opportunities and platforms to be just as good as our male counterparts!

Bonny: I believe woman are more patient and gentler with their wines, they just guide them, they do not try and “bully” or manipulate them in a certain direction.

Kelly-Marie: I think we have a natural affinity to taste and add a sense of romance to the craft. To nurture is in our nature and just as we nurture our children and families, we take easily to the nurturing of wines.

Isabel: Women certainly have a gentle touch and we are not afraid to show our ‘softer side’ to the world. We have an abundance of patience to wait for a vine to deliver her bounty and to quietly watch as a wine develops. But having said that we have a combination of strength and tenacity that allows us to withstand any number of storms!

What has been your most memorably wine moment?

Elize: It is always something special to taste very old vintages of beautiful wines. The notion that this wine was bottled before I was even born always blows me away. I can never get old of that feeling of being in awe.

Bonny: Bottling my first vintage of Zonnebloem, with the 2006 Laureat, was a very special blend for me. We handpicked a couple of barrels to taste in order to create the perfect blend. I remember the moment so vividly – a mixture of nerves and excitement!

Kelly-Marie: Drinking wine in the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy, whilst overlooking the vineyards during the harvest period. There’s a certain kind of magic that can’t be compared – the way the vines, the people and the moment come alive during the Burgundian harvest.

Isabel: Most definitely when I first tasted the Zonnebloem Shiraz Mourvédre Viognier. It’s a wine that needs to be enjoyed in silent reverie. Another moment was the first time I could say that I personally nurtured and selected the grapes for this magnificent wine!

Are people surprised when they hear that you are a winemaker?

Elize: People still get very excited when they hear what I do for a living, but one of the funniest times must have been when I was paying for something during harvest many years ago and the lady at the cash register asked me if I was a hairdresser due to the fact that my hands were stained purple at that point. I have also been asked if I’m a mechanic!

Bonny: Most people are a little surprised when they hear I am a winemaker but more interested than shocked!

Kelly-Marie: I pretty much wear my heart on my sleeve, so to speak, and wine and winemaking is definitely the thing that fills a huge part of my heart and the way I live my life. So, it’s no secret to anyone that I’m a winemaker since the role fits me like a glove!

Isabel: I started out as a viticulturist more than 20 years ago. The world definitely thought differently then as to what constitutes a typical female job – and viticulturist was certainly not one of them! I had to face many challenges along the way – some uplifting, some not so much due to the culture of the time. However today there are many females that choose terroir as their career choice and we are thriving!

Which cultivar do you see as female?

Elize: Sauvignon Blanc. Treat her like a lady with respect and she will reward you with a beautiful, complex wine. She is versatile and never dull, just love her right! But treat her otherwise and you will end up with a watered-down wine, nothing special, and a bit of a sharp bite that leaves you disappointed.

Bonny: Definitely Shiraz for the elegancy and the spicy, dark inky fruit that portrays the many fascinating layers of a women.

Kelly-Marie: Pinot Noir. She’s an elegant grape, and demanding in the conditions that she is grown in. When treated properly she yields a powerful wine which can bring even the most renowned wine connoisseurs to their knees.

Isabel: Shiraz has so much personality. It’s bold and unapologetic. Depending on how you treat the varietal in the cellar it can deliver a robust wine or a gentle Rosé. Known to grow all over the place and in need of a bit of taming, Shiraz is the toughest cookie I know!