Sharing Common Ground: The History and Heritage of Two Home-Grown Brands
The hospitality and winemaking industries might seem worlds apart at first glance but look beyond the surface and you’ll notice a number of shared pursuits: The art of combining elements to create a luxurious experience, the act of welcoming, the celebration of togetherness and the fostering of priceless moments.
This commonality becomes all the more apparent when learning about the establishment and growth of two leading brands, one rooted in hospitality and the other in the wine industry – Newmark and Creation.
From Sowing into a New Path to Growing on African Soil
Some might say that one’s circumstances open the door to success. But this was not a given for Neil Markovitz who was, from a young age, taught the value in earning one’s keep through hard work. Now a highly accomplished businessman, Neil will tell you firsthand that materialism has never been high on his priority list, nor has he used this as a metric to gauge his success (as much as he admittedly loves fast cars). “In my view, success is achieved when excellence is consistently practised,” says Neil.
Neil grew up in a family entrenched in the field of hospitality and with much business drive. For this reason, Neil believed he had a lot to prove to himself and was determined to pave his own way forward. While this mindset certainly inspired Neil’s independence, he maintains that the “sense of belonging” that is linked to family is incredibly powerful. It’s therefore not surprising that Neil was drawn, like his father, to the hospitality industry in which “being welcomed” and “creating a sense of belonging” have always been key.
In 1988, Neil graduated from Johnson & Wales University in the USA with a degree in Bachelor of Science and Hospitality Management. Thereafter, he stepped into the industry in a big way. In 1990, Neil was responsible, together with his late father, Leon Markovitz and the late Abe Swersky, for the conceptualisation and development of the Victoria & Alfred Hotel – the first hotel to be opened in the V&A Waterfront and one that is still an iconic establishment today. At the time of establishment, the hotel belonged to the Ambassador Group, which included the Ambassador Hotel.
Following the construction of the Victoria & Alfred Hotel, Neil was appointed as General Manager of the Ambassador Hotel and later of the Victoria & Alfred Hotel. Not stopping there, Neil expanded his business reach in other directions before being appointed as Director of Operations, and eventually as Managing Director, for the Ambassador Group. Neil’s passion for the broader hospitality industry has always proven to be true through his involvement in a number of tourism structures within the Western Cape and in various leadership roles, including serving as the Chairman of FEDHASA Western Cape and the Director of Cape Town Tourism.
Building on this foundation, Neil launched Newmark in 2007, etching the start of a NEW means of “belonging” in the hospitality industry. Going against the grain of industry norms, Neil had a vision to provide diverse properties, including small establishments, with the opportunity to belong to a group that would give them credibility without them losing their unique identity. Newmark started as a small company itself; it was tough in the beginning and the team had to knock on many doors before they started opening.
Fortunately, Neil had developed a strong reputation in preceding years as both a property owner and manager, which encouraged business partners and customers to begin putting their trust in the Newmark brand. Those were the days before Newmark had become internationally recognised as a sought-after “stamp of excellence”.
From Buds of International Romance to Established South African Roots
“I am never going to marry a winemaker,” Carolyn Martin, the vivacious and creative Co-owner of Creation, said to her mother who had recounted the marvelousness of a Swiss apprentice who had taken up work at the family’s estate, Glen Carlou. Carolyn was based in London at the time, in 1994, and was all too happy going about her business in the realm of design to be drawn to prospects of a “dusty and dirty” way of life. The gifted apprentice’s name wasn’t mentioned and soon thereafter the conversation was forgotten.
A few years down the line, Carolyn was required to present a global rebranding strategy for Glen Carlou to her father’s business partners in Switzerland. There, she met a gentleman by the name of Jean-Claude. The two got on “like a house on fire” but were separated by distance when Carolyn returned to London. That didn’t seem to deter JC, as he is affectionately known, from pursuing Carolyn. A few bottles of beautifully presented dessert wines and a convincing phone call later, and JC had captured Carolyn’s interest.
Carolyn moved to Switzerland, and she and JC were married one year later. When walking out of the chapel on St Peter’s Island, Carolyn’s mother leant over to her and whispered, “By the way, JC is the winemaker I told you about five years ago!”
The couple remained in Switzerland for a number of years to follow, but often travelled to South Africa. During one trip, they visited Carolyn’s uncle, Peter Finlayson – the winemaker that established Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson (winemaking must be in the genes!) – and it didn’t take long for JC to realise that Hermanus was where he wanted to live and make wine.
In response to JC’s passion for the region, Peter took him to view prime land on the scenic Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. Undulating hills, a high altitude, great soils and its proximity to the ocean promised the ideal setting in which to produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – JC’s specialities. Needless to say, it was love at first sight…again.
JC bought the farm and took Carolyn to view the bare piece of ground the next day. This would become the home of Creation Wines.
Next came the hard work. Carolyn’s father (the South African wine pioneer, Walter Finlayson) assisted in the preparation of the land and JC, who had returned to Europe with Carolyn, would fly out to tend to the estate when he could. Three years on, just before the first vintage could be harvested, JC and Carolyn packed their bags and moved back to South Africa. Initially, JC ran a separate business to fund the estate and its development, tending to its vineyards and making the wine, while Carolyn ran Creation and JC took care of viticulture and winemaking. In 2012, JC was able to be at Creation full time – just as it was “meant to be”.
From Reaping the Rewards of Hard Work to Planting into Others’ Lives
Fast forward to today: Newmark is an award-winning management company that oversees a portfolio of hotels, residences, reserves and lodges across South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia, and is continually expanding its horizons and its presence on the African continent.
“Perhaps the greatest key to our success to date has been staying true to Africa and maintaining our presence on this continent alone. You have to remain focused on your strategy and what you can achieve rather than being consumed by the data out there,” says Neil. “After all, it can all come down like a house of cards if you don’t build things properly.”
Newmark has also built a strong team over the years, spearheaded by a tremendously skilled and passionate lead team. The team not only strives for greater heights in terms of the work it pushes out but also in terms of giving back to communities and initiatives that it feels strongly about. In the Western Cape, Newmark supports the Rohan Bloom Foundation; in the Eastern Cape, it supports the SA College for Tourism Internship and Learnership Programmes at Drostdy Hotel and in line with its passion for conserving nature, leaves a Green Footprint at Serengeti Explorer Camp.
Similarly, Creation has become an esteemed winery in South Africa and has received top ratings and outstanding reviews, particularly for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, by leading wine writers such as Neal Martin, Tim Atkin and Jamie Goode, to name a few. The estate has also become well-known for its excellent food and wine pairings (a long-standing passion of Carolyn’s which stems from her childhood days spent on her grandparents’ wine farm). Every single ingredient, garnish and spice used in a dish is considered when pairing a dish with a complementary wine. It’s all in the detail. Creation likewise has a heart for giving back and places a great deal of focus on a number of community projects, specifically in the arena of education via the Pebbles Hemel-en-Aarde Education Project and the annual Cape Wine Auction.
Ultimately, these brands share many interests, passions and goals; they possess deeply rooted similarities and heritages that enable guests and patrons to enjoy great company and seamless experiences.