I grew up on Surfers’ Corner in Cape Town, South Africa, where I have been surfing for over 40 years. Before venturing to Africa five generations ago, the Jacks were wine merchants in Glasgow and my great-grandfather, James Mitchell, was a cidermaker. He planted the first cider apples in South Africa on his farm at Henley-on-Klip in the Transvaal. Perhaps it was inevitable I’d become immersed in the world of alcohol.
Growing up in Cape Town meant Table Mountain was my backyard. I spent a lot of time in the sea and in my backyard – not much in the classroom. My first job was a 5am newspaper round before school. My first memorable food experience was tasting caviar on a Prep school rugby tour to the UK and loving the exotic texture and wild flavour. Fortunately, this predilection for expensive taste only rarely extends beyond surf boards, food, wine and books – although my wife suggests that’s bad enough.
The biggest advantage of growing up in Cape Town, however, was that I learnt the secret password for getting past the Pearly Gates from Mrs Jimba, my isiXhosa teacher. I am mildly surprised I didn’t need to use that password on numerous occasions during my young adult life.
After various false, but highly enjoyable starts in academia, I eventually washed up down under at the Roseworthy Cellar, and the University of Adelaide, South Australia. Here, I learnt how to make wine and Japanese dumplings.
Hard, but happy yards followed with vineyard and cellar work all over the world. Extraordinarily fired up and brilliantly naive, I returned home in 1998 and simultaneously started a winery and a family. Anyone who has done this will tell you it is rather stupid. The winery is called Flagstone, and will always feel like one of my kids.
Flagstone was an early developer; with a strong character all of its own. It flew the coop in 2008, when it was sold to Constellation Brands. I remain part of the winemaking team at what is now Accolade Wines International.
I have always made cider as well – to my great-grandfather’s secret methodology.
Neither of my real children want to be cidermakers or winemakers, because they have seen that at some stage we have to stop driving forklifts and spend many debilitating hours begging for money from banks. Bizarrely, banks can’t understand why they must lend you funds so you can reflect the truth of seasons and the soul of a land in a cider or wine bottle.
I married into a talkative family from Co Cork. That was not only brave, but as it turns out, quite fortuitous, as I now spend a few days every month in Ireland making delicious fresh-juice cider to an old Jack family tradition.
When home, I run the family farm, called The Drift. This is an education in generational thinking. It’s a family focus. Sometimes, it’s a frank reflection of personal failure. But the mistakes and disappointments are only the slippery steps up a beautiful mountain slope.
This is farming, after all. When you pause for breath and look around at the view, the stumbling is forgotten. You realise you are still going forward and upward for all the right reasons. And it’s a privilege. Your eyes and nose and lungs are flooded with freshness and this seeps into your soul. Your weariness disappears. You feel more. You sense more. You can’t help smiling, and it starts in your heart. Life, and this clamorous endeavour called living, are put into perspective.