A toast to a woman of substance

Marilyn Cooper. Marilyn Cooper.


Marilyn Cooper – a person of passion, determination and great ambitions – is one of the few women who decided to go against the norm and make an unique mark in an industry dominated by men.

In her 15 years of service at Cape Wine Academy in Stellenbosch, Marilyn served as CEO for 6 of those years; and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her list of achievements in her memorable, trail-blazing career.

Marilyn began her journey late into the wine industry, as a student at the Cape Wine Academy (CWA) in 1986 at the age of 38 and worked as a wine consultant compiling wine lists. She then completed her Cape Wine Masters in 1999 and joined the Cape Wine Academy as Manager for the North. In 2001 she was promoted to Principal of the Academy. In 2005, the CWA became a Pty LTD company and Marilyn became the Managing Director. She was then promoted to CEO where she stayed for 6 years until retiring in December 2013. 

During this time, Marilyn continued to strive for excellence at the Academy and in her career as an educator and wine expert. She was a Finalist in the CEO Magazine as ‘SA’s Most Influential Women in Business & Government’ in 2009 and nominated again in 2010.

She has wine-judged at  major wine events such as Veritas, Muscadel Association; Woman Winemaker of the Year; Terroir awards; Michelangelo wine awards; Juliet Cullinan wine awards; WINE magazine; WineLand Magazine; Classic Wine magazine; and many more.

A pivotal moment in Marilyn’s career was in 2011 when the CWA reached the milestone of having trained over 100,000 students through the Cape Wine Academy courses. Her efforts did not go unnoticed and in 2012 Marilyn was appointed CEO of the Cape Wine Academy. 

Once at the helm of the Cape Wine Academy, Marilyn went to great lengths to stimulate employment within the wine and hospitality industry in South Africa and to raise the standard of service within the tourism sector. Marilyn successfully secured funding for the Academy from the Department of Tourism and the Expanded Public Works Programme to train 200 unemployed people from townships within the Cape and Gauteng regions to Wine Advisors – level 1 Cape Sommelier™ qualification.

Cooper says, “The Wine Advisor - Level 1 Cape Sommelier™ Programme has been a most rewarding project. We saw young, unemployed youths come in, and educated, enthusiastic grownups leave, ready to take on what the world has to offer.”

Passionate about transformation in the wine industry, one of Marilyn’s greatest achievements to date is the launch and organising of the Soweto Wine Festival, which is arguably the most successful township wine festival in the country, now in its 10th year. This wine festival attracts approximately 10 000 non-white wine consumers, and growing every year.

Marilyn leaves behind a hard-earned legacy of transformation action in the hospitality industry. Her efforts have enabled the Cape Wine Academy to shine bright and pit its students against the finest sommeliers from across the world. A formidable leader, a passionate educator and a zealous human being who works for the betterment of her community, Marilyn has been, without a shadow of a doubt, an asset to the Cape Wine Academy.

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