With every family business, there is a romantic story behind it. For Annette and Mark du Plessis, theirs is one that befits of a Lifetime movie. Annette tells us that when she met Mark, he was a Bourbon drinker and the only reason he switched to wine was so that he had something to offer her future mother-in-law when he came over.
She says: “When he asked what he should bring over, I suggested wine. So he always made sure to get some great wines when he came over. Needless to say, it went very well. Thus began his journey of discovery into the wonderful world of wines.”
Annette recalls her first trip to Cape Town, which was after the travel restrictions were lifted. On the very day she landed, she was served a glass of Chenin Blanc. That grape had a profound impact on her. “I was stunned by how delicious it was and soon discovered that South African wines are lovely,” she recalls.
Skipping ahead by a year and a half, the couple came to the mutual realisation that they would not be having children. Despite their shared desire, fate had not been favourable to them. Following their three wedding ceremonies — one in Singapore for business contacts, another in Malaysia to honour Annette’s heritage, and a third in Cape Town to celebrate Mark’s family roots — the couple pondered about their future.
In the spur of the moment, they decided on starting a wine business, specifically focusing, for now, on South African wines. “This was crazy because this was something we had no experience with but was going to do it, anyway,” says Annette.
In an exclusive email interview, the du Plessis’ take time off their busy schedule to answer these questions from us:
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How did your passion for South African wines begin and what inspired you to delve deeper into importing and selling South African wines?
Annette: As individuals, we are curious and restless. We have many different hobbies and for the most part, we share a lot of these hobbies. When I had that moment of anxiety thinking about the future, the decision to get into the wine business was very intuitive — because we like it. We like what South Africa has to offer. It gives us a way to stay connected to the land. It gives us something to nurture as we grow old together.
Mark: I grew up in Cape Town and departed at 27 to explore the world. To be honest, I wasn’t much of a wine enthusiast back then, like many young men of that time, I leaned towards a 10-year-old KWV brandy instead. I only came back to Cape Town shortly before the onset of Covid-19 and realised how much I had missed it. I felt that reconnection again. There’s an exceptional and magnificent quality to the Western Cape, making this wine venture a natural way to remain linked to my place of birth.
Sustainability is a growing concern in the wine industry. Can you tell us about any sustainable practices any of the vineyards you worked with have implemented to reduce environmental impact?
Mark: Sustainability is massively important for the South African wine industry. The Xam San (the original inhabitants of South Africa) were the world’s first environmentalists. Their legacy lives on in the commitment of South African wine producers to farm sustainably and conserve their land for future generations. This philosophy is embodied in the San word hannuwa, which means “the gathering of good fortune through living in harmony with nature”.
See also: Six biggest ways wine will change
Sustainable Wine South Africa is administered by the Wine and Spirit Board and drives the sustainable farming initiative, the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW). It employs independent auditors to check the IPW status of winegrowers. IPW is a scheme that specifies environmentally sustainable practices, rules and regulations. This scheme was introduced to the industry in 1998. Guidelines cover environmental impact care, monitor water usage, health and safety, and protect our unique biodiversity. Almost all of our producers are IPW certified.
As a married couple, what are some of the joys and challenges of working together? Any advice for couples working together?
Annette: We find the joint effort of nurturing something together very fulfilling. We’re constantly bouncing off ideas and celebrating small wins. Actually, a really big part of this journey has been my mother, so it’s even more fulfilling that as a family unit of just three, we bring our strengths to the table and are all growing in the process.
I find that challenges have presented themselves strongly in two ways for me: Having the awareness of when to take a step back and remind myself of why we’re doing it, and to not letting negatively take a toll on my happiness nor that of my marriage. I’ve found that I can be consumed by the need to do more, do better, do faster and that expectation can sometimes extend to Mark too. So we’ve had conversations about consciously making time to relax and have quality time together so still enjoy each other’s company.
Communication is really important. On top of practical things like who does what, it’s also good to extend that to communicating expectations as well as communicating reflections. Running a company together forces you to have unnatural conversations and discussions you’d never have if you weren’t working together in a corporate setting but are necessary for running and growing a business. But I think it’s possible when egos are set aside and you both remember that you’re working on a shared vision which should challenge you as individuals and strengthen you as a couple.
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Stellar collection of South African wines
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Mark du Plessis admits that he is fortunate to have a friend introduce him to the first few producers (Rainbow’s End and Mitre’s Edge) and from there he literally drove and knocked on doors. “We also got some great advice from Wines of South Africa on where to look,” he says. Here are his choices:
Carsten Migliarina’s Chardonnays. Both of them (Bush Vine and Single Vineyard). So complex but fresh. For protected heritage vines, the 1947 in particular was planted two years after the end of World War II and the vine is more than 70 years old.
Rainbow’s End. Speak to anyone in the Cape Wine industry and they will say “Anton’s Cab Franc is amazing”. So we’re especially pleased to offer their Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc (both standard and limited Edition from a single block vineyard) and the star that is the Family Reserve.
Mitre’s Edge. Lola’s entry-level easy drinking Viognier has constantly been a crowd favourite, and if you like Reds, the Sholto and The Mitre are inspired by the left and right bank of Bordeaux, outstanding.
Domaine Des Dieux. The first Cap Classique from Hemel-en-Aarde. Their 2011 Anna Louise Blanc de Blanc with lovely fine bubbles is low in dosage and spent seven years on lees followed by a further four years on cork. A must-have for any special occasion.