Making wine since 1993, Jordan Wine Estate located at Stellenbosch in South Africa has been regularly rated as one of the Top 10 wineries in South Africa. What began as a small grape grower has expanded to now a property of over 164Ha, with a vineyard, winery, and a successful hospitality business on the estate, consisting of two restaurants, a tasting venue, and luxury accommodation where we welcome both local and international visitors. The stellar success of Jordan Wine Estate is inseparable from the hard work of its owners – Kathy and Gary Jordan.
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Obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Cape Town, with a double major in Economics and Industrial Psychology, Kathy went on to study at the University of California, Davis. She attended classes in the Department of Viticulture and Enology as well as marketing courses in the Department of Agricultural Economics. She also completed a 6-month internship at Iron Horse Winery, Sonoma. On returning to South Africa, Kathy and Gary jointly spearheaded the growth and development of the family-run, Jordan Wine Estate. Both Gary and Kathy, have been hands-on and intimately involved in all aspects of winemaking, marketing, and the development of the estate.
Kathy is also committed to elevating the profile of women in the wine business through her Women in Wine Initiative, started in 2013 with the help of Jancis Robinson.
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Through an interview with WINWSA, Kathy shares her thoughts on the development of Jordan Wine Estate and South Africa’s wine industry.
Q： How many years have you been in the wine & spirits business?
A： We purchased Jordan Wine Estate in 1982 and have been producing wine since 1993.
Q： What makes you devote yourself to the wine and spirits sector?
A： Jordan Wine Estate is a family-run business and has been our life-work and a project that has been close to our hearts for over 40 years. The wine industry in South Africa is very special industry as the industry members all work together very closely to promote Brand South Africa throughout the world as well as in South when we have local and international visitors at Jordan Wine Estate. Our fellow wine producers are not only colleagues but our close friends.
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Q： What are the main transformations & changes in the industry you have experienced so far?
A： Since the 90’s we have seen the end of Apartheid which had a major impact on the quality and style of wines being produced. Prior to the 90’s there were sanctions on South African products worldwide, so the wine styles being produced in South Africa were made more for local consumption and the local palate and so did not have an international style. South African wines weren’t allowed to be entered into international competitions, due to political isolation, so the wines were not being produced in a style to suit the international palate.
This all changed in the 90’s. Quality has improved year on year with more experimentation with different varieties to see what grows well and flourishes in the South Africa Mediterranean climate of the Western Cape. Winemakers also could then work internationally, and so winemaking techniques have changed dramatically in the past 30 years with more use of small oak barrels and other fermentation vessels such as amphorae and cement eggs. South African wines are well- known for being of the highest quality, comparable to some of the best wines produced in the world and yet still at comparatively very affordable prices.
Q： What do you enjoy most in your career? The biggest challenge you have encountered as a woman in the industry? What drives you to keep going?
A： The most enjoyable aspect of my career is that as a family we have worked towards our life-long dream of developing a successful wine estate from a small, neglected farm. We began as a small grape grower and expanded to now have a property of over 164Ha, with a vineyard, winery and a successful hospitality business on the estate, consisting of two restaurants, a tasting venue and luxury accommodation where we welcome both local and international visitors.
Our dream and drive took us to the USA in the late 1980’s where we studied and worked for 2 years, before returning to design & build our cellar and begin our wine-making journey at Jordan Wine Estate. The reward of creating your own business and being responsible for every aspect of the process and success of it, is incomparable. Today we have grown from a small family-run business of only a handful of staff to have a large staff complement of over 150 staff members who all have the same pride and drive to ensure the success of Jordan Wine Estate. The fact that we are responsible for the livelihoods of so many staff members and their families, make us even more driven to succeed, especially in South Africa where unemployment is very high and there are many challenges that are being faced by its citizens daily, that many other countries take for granted.
The biggest challenge as a woman in the Wine Industry is proving that you are capable of doing a job that is usually identified as being male-dominated and not being put off by comments regarding this. Luckily, over the past 30 years this perception has changed completely and nowadays there is not a second glance or comment about a woman working in the wine industry.
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Q： What are the main distinguishing merits or qualities in women attributing to career success?
A： Women might not always have the strength to do all the jobs that a man can do in the cellar, but they have other very important skills that can ensure that they are very good winemakers and can produce incredible wines. To make a healthy, high-quality wine requires discipline, organization, logical thinking, record-keeping and following strict hygiene procedures. Women have many of these skills and so potentially can be excellent winemakers by ensuring that the wines produced are taken care of throughout the production process, resulting in wines of the highest quality.
Q： Any advice to your peers?
A： If you have a passion for winemaking and enjoy both physical and analytical work that is varied and interesting and don’t mind working long hours outside of normal working hours, then go for it. Balancing a family and this type of career is difficult, so the support of an extended family is very important. As Gary, my husband, and I were both involved in the winemaking process, our work hours were the same, so the help of our mothers in taking care of our two children in the early days of our business, was vital to our success.
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Q： What drives you to expand your winery to its current scale? What is your vision for the Jordan Wine Estate?
A： The winery and business grew organically. We started quite small, the original farm was 75ha but we were lucky enough to be able to enlarge the property by buying land from our neighbors bordering our boundaries. Today it is 164Ha. We built the original winery in 1992, starting our first vintage in 1993. For our first vintage, we harvested 100 tonnes which was quite large for a maiden vintage. We later expanded the cellar to be able to accommodate the increased production of red varieties that we had planted on our newer slopes. Today we are at full capacity with the cellar being able to harvest up to 1000 tonnes. Our vision for Jordan Wine Estate is to have a world-class establishment producing world-class wines and offering visitors to the estate-friendly South African hospitality of the highest international standard. We don’t want to expand further, but believe one should never rest on your laurels and continue to improve on the quality of wine and the world-class experience that we offer at the estate.
Q： Why did you want to start the Jordan Women in Wine Initiative? What are the main impacts it created for South African Wine Industry?
A： The Jordan Women in Wine Initiative consists of 2 aspects, one local and one international. The international aspect was to offer an international woman, presently involved in the world of wine, whether in marketing, winemaking, sales or education, to have the opportunity to visit South Africa and experience a harvest first-hand. Usually, unless one has had previous winemaking experience one would not be considered to work internationally.
Therefore, this initiative gives the opportunity for a woman, already working in the wine industry and who has completed the WSET Diploma, or similar, to experience a vintage in South Africa enabling them to be able to better market, educate or sell wine in the future. Other than working the vintage, they would also have the opportunity to visit other wineries in different regions of South Africa as well as experience the attractions and beauty of this incredible country.
The second aspect of the initiative is a local one where we select women working in sales (retail) or hospitality (restaurants, hotels) who are hungry to study further, but don’t have the financial means. Every year we sponsor several candidates to attend some of the WSET courses offered in South Africa. These candidates also visit the participating wineries during the different seasons to experience the activities on a wine farm and have firsthand experience in a cellar.
The impact that this has on the South African wine industry is that locally, there are now more knowledgeable women working in the industry, who are better equipped to understand the winemaking process and to be able to market and sell South African wine. This is very beneficial when explaining and marketing wines to international visitors. Personally, by passing these courses the candidates also have pride in their achievement and this gives them the ability to receive better job opportunities when applying for work in the Wine Industry.
The International aspect is very important as a marketing tool for Brand South Africa. It is usually the first time that international candidates are visiting South Africa and so other than experiencing a vintage, they also experience the various wine regions, the friendliness of the people of South Africa and the beauty of the country. We hope that when they return to their homes they are inspired by their experience and will promote South Africa and its wines when speaking to their students and colleagues.
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Q： How has climate change affected your approaches toward viticulture and winemaking?
A： We are very aware of the issues of climate change and that one needs to be considering the most suitable varieties to be planted to the changing climate. Previously we had planted mostly French varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz. Now more recently we have looked to planting more drought-resistant varieties such as Assyrtiko, famously grown on the dry Greek island of Santorini. Our block was the first commercial South African planting of this variety and is the mother block for other future vineyards. At Jordan we have always practiced biodiversity and sustainable farming, but in more recent years are also practicing regenerative farming to ensure that the soils are revitalized and regenerated as well.
Further to this, in response to climate change, we have recently started a new project in East Sussex, England, where we have planted a small vineyard to the champagne varieties and where we have built a small winery & distillery. The climate in England is year on year becoming better suited to successful and reliable grape growing.
Already we have produced our first Sussex Dry Gin under our label, Mousehall. We have further Gins and distilled products that we plan to release in the future.
We also harvested our first grapes last year, in 2022 and will be producing a range of sparkling wines as well as a still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Q： You are very talented at the business side of your winery. The visitors are often amazed by the experience and services that are provided at your winery, what do you believe is crucial in managing a family winery?
A： It is important to never lose sight of the ethos of our family values. We want to create an experience at Jordan Wine Estate that expresses these values. From the friendly welcome when the visitor arrives, to how each member of staff interacts with the visitor should make them feel welcome and comfortable. Our aim is to ensure that the guest will enjoy the best, wine, food & panoramic views while surrounded by the serenity and beauty of Jordan Wine Estate.
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Q： South African wines still remain relatively new for Chinese consumers, what are the special features of South African wines that would you introduce to them?
A： South Africa produces wines that are a great expression of the varieties from which they are made. Due to the Mediterranean climate, the weather is perfect for optimally ripening the grapes. Many of the European varieties grow very well in our wine regions. There are many varieties and styles of wines produced in South Africa. A common thread in these South African wines is the great fruit character and good acidity which ensures well-balanced wines. The soils of the regions of the Western Cape are ancient, much older than most other wine-growing regions. The soils are mostly made from decomposed granite that is over 600 million years old. This adds a minerality, finesse, and complexity to the wines of South Africa.
Q： Who will you recommend us for interview as the next WWS figure?
A： Regine Lee, who is an inspiration to any woman in the wine business. She is a hard-working, MW and mother of 2 young boys. Regine was the first woman I selected in our Women in Wine Programme in 2014. She worked at Jordan Wine Estate for the vintage and returned to the UK to become a MW in record time!
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