I Used to Be Somebody: (Un)Retirement Lessons Learned

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Mary-Lou Nash Interview: Moves to South Africa and becomes a Winemaster!

Diana Landau | July 01, 2024

Mary-Lou NashWhat a fascinating story about Mary-Lou Nash who arrived in South Africa with just a backpack and eventually becomes a winemaster. Her Black Pearl winery is in the Paarl valley, near Cape Town. Her story is one of curiosity for the world, taking chances, a lot of hard work and dogged perseverance. In 1995 she had been a teacher traveling the world and decided on a whim to take her backpack and meet her dad in South Africa. She had no idea then that choosing to go to South Africa would set her life on a completely new course.

Mary-Lou was born in England and grew up in Canada and Maine. Both of her parents were doctors and she was one of 4 children. "Everywhere I've lived in my life was in the countryside." As a teen, Mary-Lou says she partied hard, played hard at sports and studied hard. (Even at an early age, her passions were her driving force.) She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in Anthropology, summa cum laude and then taught English in Japan, traveling the world in her spare time.

Her father had remarried, went to South Africa for a honeymoon and then purchased a farm, not realizing it had 40 acres of Chenin Blanc. Mary-Lou visited him there. "I knew nothing about grapes," she tells us. They had no laborers and decided to harvest the grapes themselves. They picked 3 tons on a Friday and with an aching back recruited more workers and finished the harvest. Mary-Lou was hooked. She told her dad she would stay on as the manager. In 1997, they planted grapes for red wines.
Always determined, she is a self-taught winemaker that faced real discrimination in the 1990's male-dominated wine industry. She worked hard and never gave up, always reaching out and befriending other winemakers to continually learn more. She received her Cape Wine Masters degree in 2011 from the University in Stellenbosch. In 2001 she created her first vintage herself. "I had bottled, created a label and had never given a thought to selling it!" Today, Mary-Lou's winery produces 7,300 barrels of red in addition to white wine.

Fun Fact: Mary-Lou met a wine distributor along the way that helped her get her label into Disney. Turns out Jack Sparrow's pirate ship (Pirates of the Caribbean) is also named "Black Pearl." Her Cabernet is the #1-selling South African red in Disney World.

Unfortunately, Mary-Lou was involved in a harrowing experience being robbed at knifepoint in her home at the winery and she decided to move to a home in Stellenbosch recently. "Everything happens for a reason. I was isolated at Black Pearl. Now I have moved into town, I have a whole new group of friends, I can walk everywhere, I take a yoga class on the beach and I've joined a sailing club. I love my life now!"

Mary-Lou's life advice:
  • "Don't always take the easy route. Don't be scared of taking chances."
  • "Put yourself first and do what makes you happy. We can't waste any time at our age!"
  • "Always accept invitations--get out there! You never know who you might meet." (Her dad told her this one but she firmly lives it.)
  • "It's all about the F-Word, as in FUN!"Check out more super fun unretirement ideas - Click here for this week's newsletter!


• More about Mary-Lou Nash and Black Pearl Wines
• Sponsored by: How to Retire and Not Die
• Sponsored by Capital Advantage
• (Un)Retirement Travel with the Pro Allan Wright, Zephyr Adventures
• I Used to be Somebody World Tours -- Tuscany, Portugal, Pickleball Adventure


Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the "I Used to be Somebody" blog
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