Part Two – Winemakers and Sommeliers
When harvest ended in early April my immersion in African wine culture continued. Have you ever heard the term Sapiosexual, it’s a person who is attracted to smart people. I need a term for people like me who are attracted to wine people...Winosexual? I am attracted to anyone who loves talking about wine, especially winemakers and sommeliers.
After harvest ended I spent most of my days tracking down winemakers at boutique wine farms. With my newly acquired knowledge from working harvest I created a list of questions. I’d happily skip into tasting rooms and politely request to chat with the winemaker. My favorite question, what grape do you enjoy working with? After all the acquired knowledge that was the best question I could think of. It turned out to be a great ice breaker. The winemakers would spend hours chatting with me and sometimes share special bottles of unreleased vintages or their special blends not sold for retail. The winemakers would share stories of their start in the industry, their side passions and their harvest experiences abroad.
One of my favorite visits was to Grangehurst. I met the owner/ winemaker Jeremy Walker. When I mentioned to Jeremy my particular excitement was about women and people of color involved in the wine industry he kindly boasted about graduating Stellenbosch University with the first world renown woman winemaker Dr. Hildegarde Heymann. He also very proudly introduced me to his assistant winemaker Gladis, a beautiful black woman who was extremely shy however passionate about wine. I could feel the passion beaming from her smile.
Jeremy spent a good amount of time talking to me about wine. He poured his vintage wines and talked Pinotage. Jeremy appropriately described the unique and diverse grape in a way that made the grape sound like the world class representation of South Africa that it is. All of Grangehurst wines are vintage, which I absolutely love. It’s like someone gifting me the patience and will power to lay down wine for a while. My favorite was the Nikela. I pronounce it Nike –LA however the correct pronunciation “ne-gay-la”. Nikela means a gift or an offering.
When I was not in the tasting room I was still tracking local wine makers on my hit list. I tracked down Ntsiki Biyela who makes Aslina wines. When trying to arrange a sip and chat she offered me an invitation to a Braai at her home. (A braai is a South African BBQ.) Of course I jumped at the opportunity. I went to her home a couple days before she was to start her USA wine tour. Just one year before I had met Ntsiki at PYDA (Pinotage Youth Development Academy) and interviewed her for my social media page. I was impressed with her story, a student with absolutely no experience with wine who excelled when offered a scholarship to study wine. After graduating Stellenbosch University she landed a job as a winemaker for one of South Africa’s most historic wineries and now has her own brand, Aslina. As you can tell I am a proud ambassador and somewhat groupie. A highlight of my African story, chilling in Ntsiki’s backyard taking selfies, grilling meats and talking about everything that matters in life; food, wine and music. I could not believe I was actually living the story I had once only dreamed about.
I eventually moved from the suburbs in wine country to the city center of Cape Town. The focused transitioned from conversations in lush vineyards to dining experiences in some of Cape Town’s high end, hip and fancy restaurants. Instead of tasting with winemakers at vineyards I sought out to taste at world class restaurants that had the best sommeliers. I started this adventure at the Cape Grace hotel. I arrived for an impromptu visit with Tinashe Marlvin Gwese. For him it was random, for me he was just another somm on my hit list!
One of my dreams when I was an adolescent protesting against Apartheid was to eventually visit the fanciest hotel in South Africa, lounge by the pool and order the fanciest meal and drinks they had. The Cape Grace is definitely one of the fanciest, the pool idea was out of the question due to the water crisis so I waited in the Cape Grace bar stalker style drinking specialty cocktails and wine for two hours until Gwese finally arrived to work. I was excited to meet the Zimbabwe born wine guru. He is the head somm at Cape Grace, a hotel that 30 years ago I would not have been allowed to lounge around in during the segregation era of Apartheid. Gwese was charming and professional. He offered my friends and I a bottle of MCC sparkling wine, we chatted for a bit and took selfies. Mission accomplished! One down and I had a couple more on my hit list.
The next Sommelier on the hit list was Luvo Young Ntezo at the famous One and Only hotel. I learned my lesson and made an appointment with Ntezo. The well-traveled Ntezo graciously gave me the time I needed for a behind the scenes look at life as a top Sommelier in South Africa. I literally thought I was going to burst from excitement as he toured me around the glass, climate controlled cellar. Although the One and Only had a great collection of international wines, I could see that Ntezo was most proud of the amazing collection of South African wines. Ntezo was responsible for sourcing both international and domestic wines for the One and Only. Some of the wines I was familiar with and proud I had the same in my collection. After the tour Ntezo sat with me on the patio to talk wine, people and passions. Although he could not share the names he did hint that he had pulled corks for some of my favorite celebrities. Although eloquent in his language and wine knowledge the conversation with Ntezo was humble and insightful. He made the most exquisite of fine wine sound like everyday table wines. No matter the wine French, German, Afrikaans he pronounced all like they were his native language.
Last but certainly not least my good friend, winemaker and head sommelier at the Test Kitchen Tinashe Nyamudoku. Over the past couple years Tinashe and I have become friends. When I visited South Africa for the first time three years ago I did research, looking for people excelling in the wine industry in South Africa and that is when I found out about Tinashe. From that moment onward he became the first South African Sommelier on my list. I was fascinated with his journey. Like myself he did not grow up in this wine life, our parents did not have fine wine with dinner neither had we grown up traveling the world tasting fine wine. Tinashe paired his natural talents, study, and hard work with amazing character to become one of the world’s top sommeliers. He gained international fame and has become a decision maker at the world’s number fifty restaurant, number one in all of South Africa. Let’s take a break and let that soak in.
A few days before I was to leave Cape Town Tinashe stopped by my apartment in Cape Town to drop off a few bottles of his wine, Kumusha. The wine is beautiful, a 50/50 blend of Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon. It drinks like a crowd pleaser but leaves an impression like the life of the party. Exactly what Tinashe intended. When I asked him “my favorite question, what grape do you enjoy working with?”, he replied “It’s about creating texture”, he explained that taste and feel was what he was after when making Kumusha. That afternoon Tinashe and I drank his wine, shared some wine from the US and exchanged stories about our wine experience in Africa. We talked about his wine and what it means to him, to African and to the wine world. He explained that the name Kumusha means a place where you come from, a community or neighborhood. He told me that his motivation for creating his own wine label was to extend his community into the wine world “by telling an African story through wine”. We share this desire and two years ago when we first met it was a dream that now we are both living. Reminds me of the Biggie Smalls lyrics, “It was all a dream, we used to read Wine Enthusiast (sp) magazine.”
Tuanni Price, the owner of Zuri Wine Tasting. A wine Enthusiast and adventurer, loves everything about the wine experience