It may be difficult to believe but, just like any other job, being a sommelier is hard work. It’s different from the relaxation and joy one would associate with drinking wine and enjoying food at leisure, as these four top sommeliers in Cape Town explain.
Words: Eugene Yiga
“I was quick to realise that it requires not only knowledge, but the proper approach, thinking process, and respect for different opinions in a polarised industry,” says Tinashe Nyamudoka of The Test Kitchen. “It’s demanding; contrary to what I thought it would be.”
For Gregory Mutambe of The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, being a sommelier is also demanding. When invited to judge wine competitions, which he now does on a regular basis, he might have to taste over 90 wines in a single day, writing detailed notes about every single one!
“We not only connect the wine-loving public to the wineries but also guide them on how best to enjoy their wines in terms of the correct glassware, serving temperature, and the ‘right food’ to go with their choice of wine,” he says. “We create experiences and we are always keen to share our knowledge and new discoveries.”
Speaking of knowledge, Luvo Ntezo of One&Only Cape Town also believes in education. While working as a pool porter, a guest asked him to open a bottle. But he didn’t know how to use a corkscrew had to ask for help.
“My family had never been big wine drinkers and I didn’t have any interest or knowledge of wine,” he says. “At the time, I just needed cash to keep me going. I just needed a job.”
The next day, Luvo asked winemaker John Loubser to take him under his wing and teach him all there was to know about wine. This helped him gain an understanding of both the production and the tactical side of winemaking. From there, his passion grew.
“Some of the most recognised sommeliers in the world come from countries that don’t even produce wine, which goes to show the relevance of academic study,” he says. “My passion is to discover new wineries and emerging terroirs from South Africa. For example, the wines of Swartland were not well known but the region is now fast gaining a reputation for exciting blends from micro-managed vineyards with young winemakers. I always try to encourage people to go off the beaten track.”
Pearl Olivier of The Belmond Mount Nelson is also keen to expand perceptions about wine.
“If you tell me you hate Chardonnay and only drink Sauvignon Blanc but want to try something different, it’s possible you could find yourself falling in love with an un-wooded Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc that may have technical similarities,” she says. “I believe in one sip at a time.”