A glass with class
SA’s new generation of sommeliers faces a challenge, says Hilary Prendini Toffoli. Is this elite group going the same way as fine dining ? Sommelier is the French word for wine waiter. "Selecting the appropriate wine to accompany a well-prepared dish is an integral part of the dining experience for discerning and widely travelled guests," says the CEO of the Twelve Apostles Hotel, Horst Frehse.
Yet in many top SA restaurants the job of introducing diners to the unique features of special wines that they should try is left to a waiter whose main concern is getting the cork out of the bottle. "Some restaurant owners have no real knowledge of what a sommelier does and what value they can add to the business," says Frehse.
"[These owners] are not wine aficionados. Sommeliers are seen as an unnecessary, expensive luxury in SA, says Khuselo Mputa, a Stellenbosch-born sommelier who has worked in the UK and for India's Zuri Group, and is now a sommelier on the Seychelles' private island paradise, North Island, where Prince William honeymooned with Kate Middleton.
"Some SA restaurants don't even regard waiters as professionals," he says. Things are changing, however, says Oyster Box sommelier Eric Botha, who grew up in De Aar, where there is no wine industry or culture of wine-drinking, and was lucky enough to be tutored by Woolworths wine selector and renowned Cape wine master Allan Mullins.
He blames the shortage of sommelier jobs on the dearth of sommelier training courses, and believes that with the support of the new SA Sommeliers' Association the day is coming when SA's five-star hotels won't get the grading unless they have a sommelier. Right now there's only one sommelier training course in SA.