Marlize was born in Winburg in the Free State where she grew up. Her father farmed sheep and wheat. A widowed uncle used to visit every Sunday in her teens and brought a bottle of hanepoot with him, which she found pleasant.
At Christmas, a bottle of Osbloed (ox blood), usually Chateau Libertas, was enjoyed by the family, but wine was not every day fare. Marlize worked in the restaurant business in Johannesburg for 17 years and soon discovered that “Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay smelled and tasted different. I knew from then on I would never be bored”.
Marlize thought that by doing the Cape Wine Academy course and becoming a Wine Master she could be a winemaker. This illusion was shattered by Lowell Jooste at Klein Constantia, who told her to quit her job, sell her house and move to the Cape to study full-time at Elsenburg. Making this leap of faith sounds easy on paper, but it must have taken enormous courage for her and her husband. It paid off though – she started at Vergenoegd the day after her last exam at Elsenburg. The couple lives on the farm with their dog, Jonah, “who thinks he owns the farm,” plus two cats, four goldfish and a ‘bokkie’. Marlize also has a diploma in Fine Arts and loves painting, especially birds of prey, and portraits of friends’ pets, as gifts for them.
The historic estate of Vergenoegd just outside Stellenbosch has some classy neighbours – big names in the wine business – but only Vergenoegd has the famous Indian runner ducks much loved by visitors. They are trotted out every day to greet their fans. Not for eating, they play an integral role in keeping the snail population under control and consume so many that they’ve probably acquired French accents.
The Faure family has been at Vergenoegd since 1820 and six generations of them played their part there. In very recent times, Vergenoegd was acquired by an overseas consortium that’s pouring money into it without disturbing the patina of the ages that clings most charmingly to it.
Winemaker Marlize Jacobs, a feisty blonde with a charming edge, has been there for many years, working first with winemaker John Faure and now on her own, carefully making sure their formidable reputation for red wines is maintained. (They also make whites but the fruit is sourced from other Cape estates). Marlize is also the viticulturist, playing a vital role in getting the right wines into bottles that bear their label. She says, “If you need to interfere in the cellar, you’ve done something wrong in the vineyards.” She’s obviously doing nothing wrong, judging from the excellent wines at Vergenoegd.
Can you describe the best glass of wine you’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking?
I have tasted quite a few very good wines, but often they were only tasting samples. The best glass I had (actually, it was a ¾ bottle) was of a 1995 Vergenoegd Cabernet Sauvignon that was opened for a vertical tasting. The wine was already 17 years old, but it was, in my opinion, the best example of Cab I have tasted (and I am not being biased now!). Fresh berry fruits that jump at the nose, complexity and structure on the palate, and an aftertaste that lingered forever – it was like the wine was made yesterday. It made me feel so proud to be winemaker at Vergenoegd, even if I was not involved in that vintage.
And the worst?
As a student often short of money (as most students are), I had some very bad examples, because all I could afford was Tassenberg and box wine. But I persisted because I only wanted to drink wine. Tassies was not so bad. I actually used it one time to disinfect a wound of my husband’s had while we were camping. The wound healed very quickly after that.
Is there something that makes South African wines special? Can you describe it?
Our wines are fresh, lively and full of character from our unique terroirs. And different. I love the way local winemakers are experimenting with ‘unusual’ cultivar,s as well as very old vines and different wine styles (think Orange Wine). We are seen by the rest of the world to be brave to do that, but we can definitely capitalise on it.
What do you find attracts you to people as friends?
I naturally take to people that love animals, and that listen to you when you talk, and have a great sense of humour. I also get on very well with people that love nature, and have a sense of spirituality about them.
I don’t do politics or religion (a definite no-no with me).
What do you like most about yourself?
The fact that I am super-efficient in my job (I seldom have to check up on myself). I am very fair and just with my staff, with regards to disciplinary procedures. I am also compassionate with regards to social issues, and want to change the world constantly, but it is not always possible.
I am a control freak. I am brutally honest (which often gets me into hot water). I am way too sensitive (and, as such, too hard on myself).
When in your life have you been happiest- until now?
When my husband and I lived and worked in the USA for two seasons at a ski resort. The Americans in Vermont are such real people, and life has such good quality there – it is like another world. Pity they don’t make much wine over there, otherwise we would have stayed.
What can you just not do without in your life?
My dog. He is my number one fan (and I am his number one fan). My husband. He is my number two fan (and I am his number two fan).
When do you think it is right to tell a teensy-weensy lie?
I can’t lie. Never. I hate lies, even a teensy-weensy one.
When have you been most bored?
Waiting at customs in Boston USA for them to clear our visas. Studying Statistics at Bloem University.
2016 harvest – flying solo for the first time.
Vergenoegd wines we love…
An interesting blend of Touriga, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Tinta Barocca yields an appealing dark-red wine packed with intense berry flavours and aromas. Fabulous with red meat and, dare I say it, roast duck.
The fruit for this easy-to-drink charmer is sourced from various places in the Cape. Smooth with well-controlled acids belying the 100% Sauvignon Blanc makeup. Perfect for sushi and grilled game fish.
Deliciously deep, dark, and mysterious. Intense without being overpowering and with typical spicy nuances to support all that fruit. Knock back at a braai with red meat.
Words: Greg Landman