Yesterday I spent a most entertaining afternoon at the Grande Roche hotel in Paarl, to observe the last phase of the Wines of South Africa (WOSA) Sommelier World Cup competition, the announcement and evaluation of the Top 3, and the awarding of the prize to the winning sommelier Will Predhomme.
The invited guests were the twelve finalists for the Sommelier World Cup, media representatives from the USA (I sat next to Rebecca Canan from the Terroirist Blog), Sweden, and Belgium, local writers, the local and international sommelier judges, and WOSA staff from its international offices as well as from its head office in Stellenbosch. After a welcome glass of wine, we sat down for lunch at Bosman’s, and it was clear to see why this restaurant did not make this year’s Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant shortlist, the food probably brought in from their Bistro Allegro.
It was a delight to sit at a WOSA dominant table, and to re-meet incumbent CEO Siobhan Thompson, who takes over the reins from current CEO Su Birch at the end of October, the two working together in November before Su leaves. At our table I met Maja Berthas, WOSA Market Manager for Scandinavia; Vladimir Gorodkov, Cape Town-based WOSA Country Manager for Russia, German Country Manager Petra Mayer, and Sarah Papenfus, the local WOSA Guest Relations Manager.
Maja shared that South Africa has been the most popular import country into Sweden with a market share of 22%, but has slipped into second place as a result of an aggressive push by Italy, now at 23 %, and South Africa at 18% market share. More than 43 million litres are exported to Sweden from South Africa every year. She has worked for WOSA for nine years, having been a journalist who fell in love with our country when she attended CapeWine in 2004. She regards Cape Town as her second home. As Russia is still a small market for South Africa, WOSA cannot afford to open an office in that country yet, so appointed Vladimir Gorodkov as its Country Manager for Russia in 2010, but based in Cape Town, from which he also operates a wine tour operator company. He said that the disadvantage is that he is removed from his target market, but that the advantage is his constant close contact with the local wine producers. He plans events, exhibitions, festivals, wine shows, and wine tastings from Cape Town, and travels to Russia to be present at them. He is proud of the 38% p.a. growth he has achieved for the local wines in the past year. South African wines have a good image, despite the market share still being small.
This is the second Sommelier World Cup competition, the first being held in 2010. The panel of judges were American GM and Executive Chef at Hotel Fauchère Master of Wine Christopher Bates; Neil Grant, co-owner of Burrata and Chairman of the South African Sommeliers Association; Gareth Ferreira, Head Sommelier of The Saxon Boutique Hotel working alongside Eat Out Top 20 shortlisted Chef David Higgs; Higgo Jacobs, freelance sommelier; Ronan Sayburn of the Dorchester Collection and Master Sommelier in the UK.; and Jörg Pfützner, Consulting Wine Editor for G&W magazine. We were told that about 350 sommeliers from around the world had entered the competition, which is valuable in itself, in focusing attention on South African wines.
In the week leading up to the Finals the sommeliers enjoyed a braai at Vriesenhof; attended a presentation on BWI, WIETA and Wine of Origin; participated in a Chardonnay Forum Tasting at Webersburg (with wines from De Wetshof, Glen Carlou, Glenwood, Hamilton Russell, Quoin Rock, Hartenberg, Iona, Jordan, KWV, Sterhuis, The Winery of Good Hope, Vondeling, Waterford, Paul Cluver, and Haskell); a biodynamic wine tour at Reyneke Wines; a Polkadraai Producer Tasting (with Reyneke, De Toren, Bein, Mulderbosch, Botanica, Saxenburg, and Neethlingshof); a Chenin Blanc Association tasting led by Ina Smith, Carl van der Merwe, Sebastian Beaumont, Johan Malan, and Chris Mullineux, with dinner at 96 Winery Road; Swartland Vineyard Tour with Eben Sadie, Adi Badenhorst and Rosa Kruger; Swartland Producer Tasting (Adi Badenhorst, Sadie Family Wines, Lammershoek, Mount Abora, Kloovenburg, Mullineux, Porseleinberg, Babylon’s Peak, David Sadie, Riebeek Cellars, and Swartland Winery) as well as an Old Vines Tasting by Rosa Kruger and lunch at the Royal Hotel in Riebeek Kasteel; Sauvignon Blanc Association Tasting with Pieter de Waal; Pinotage Association Tasting at Kanonkop (with Laibach, Neethlingshof, Delheim, Altydgedacht, Kaapzicht, and Kanonkop); tour of Groot Constantia; Constantia Valley Tasting (with Groot Constantia, Steenberg, Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachting, Constantia Glen, Eagle’s Nest, Cape Point Vineyards, Constantia Uitsig, and Beau Constantia) with Cape Malay lunch at Groot Contantia; Cape South Coast Tasting at Gabrielskloof (with Elgin, Bot River, Elim, and Hermanus wines); Hemel en Aarde Valley Tasting at Newton Johnson (with Newton Johnson, Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, La Vierge, Creation, Restless River, and Summaridge) and dinner at Eric Bulpitt’s new The Restaurant at Newton Johnson; vineyard tour with Abrie Bruwer at Springfield Estate; Robertson Producer Tasting (with Arendsig, Bon Courage, De Wetshof, Graham Beck, Kranskop, Rietvallei, Rooiberg, Springfield, Weltevrede, and Robertson Wine Valley) and lunch at Springfield; game drive with Mossie Basson at Graham Beck; Paarl Producer Tasting at Laborie (with Fairview, KWV, Mellasat, Druk-my-Niet, Painted Wolf Wines, Rhebokskloof, and Black Pearl Wines) and dinner at Harvest; and tasting with Wilhelm Pienaar at Nederburg and lunch at The Red Table Restaurant. The foreign journalists and judges followed the same programme to a large degree.
As we sat down in the Vineyard Venue at the Grande Roche, we were introduced to the twelve Finalists: Christina Kern from Tantris Restaurant in Germany, Joachim Bauwens from Restaurant Bacchus in Belgium, Jasper van den Hoogen of The Grand in Holland, Heidi Irene Hansen of Norske Selskab in Oslo, Beatrice Becher of Eriks Vinbar in Gondolen in Sweden, Antti Uusitalo of Savoy Restaurant in Finland, Christian Zhang of Yacht Club on the Bund in Shanghai, Anna Sviridenko of Stroganoff Steak House in Russia, Will Predhomme of Oliver and Bonacini’s restaurant group in Canada, Morgan Harris of Corkbuzz in New York, Terry Kandylis of The Ledbury in London, and Jordi Chan of the Wine Gallery in Hong Kong. The sommeliers were smartly dressed, all in black suits bar one, one with a long black apron too, another with a bow tie, each expressing their character in their dress. Activities done in the morning before we arrived led the judges to announce the three Finalists to go into the practical evaluation, which we were allowed to observe: Anna Sviridenko, Will Predhomme, and Morgan Harris.
The stage had been set up with three restaurant tables, at which the judges sat, each set of judges having a different set of challenges for the three top finalists. The audience was briefed as to what the judges would be looking for, Christopher Bates playing the difficult (American) customer, and tricks and trials built into the judging process. Each sommelier had a 20 minute time limit to serve all three tables:
* Table one was led by Gareth Ferreira, and he had set up a shelf of wines alongside his table, with the wines not neatly laid label up. He requested a wine recommendation, from the wines on the shelf. The apology for the wrong storing of the wine, the procedure to remove the cork, to deal with the sediment due to the wrong placement on the shelf, the decanting and pouring of the wine were evaluated. Anna did not pick up on the wrong placement of the bottle on the shelf, but was the only one that tasted the wine before serving it. All three finalists brought the cork to the ‘guest’. The bottle neck was wiped before and after pulling the cork. All three finalists ignored the empty wine glass once they had moved on to the other two tables.
* Table two was led by Christopher Bates and Neil Grant, and they requested wine pairing recommendations for the courses of a tasting menu, which included wild mushroom and garlic risotto with Kalahari truffle; Bobotie spring rolls (they had to explain the dish too) with aubergine and pickled pearl onion salad, and mint yoghurt dressing and fruit chutney; grilled calamari and crayfish paella with sautéed artichoke and tomato served with a citrus buchu (hard to pronounce for the sommeliers) sauce; venison shank with braised pumpkin and sweet corn, dried apricots and buttered cabbage; and rooibos panna cotta with a wild berry sauce. Just to throw the Finalists, a recommendation for an aperitif was requested, and the audience could not contain its laughter when two of the three finalists recommended a chilled Amarula! Two glasses with a similar coloured liquid had to be identified by sniffing only, the brandy guessed correctly by all three finalists, but the Wilderer herb grappa not. The ‘guest’ dropped his napkin, and it was picked up in all three instances, Morgan asking if he would like another, which would have cost him in his scoring.
* Table three’s Ronan Sayburn asked that the glass of red wine (eventually identified as a Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2009) on his table be evaluated and identified, and that each finalist explain to the audience, as if we were the staff, how best to sell it to the customers as a wine by the glass.
* The last challenge was to pour 16 equally filled glasses from a magnum of Graham Beck MCC, no drops or additional pouring allowed. Morgan poured too much in each glass, and could therefore not fill all 16 glasses.
All three finalists were at a disadvantage in pronouncing the names of some of the South African wines they recommended, and one mixed up Elim and Elgin, even though they had visited both regions. The winner was announced as Will Predhomme, and he certainly was the funniest sommelier, with a strong character and raising a regular laugh, even from the judges. Morgan came second and Anna third. It was such an entertaining afternoon that the idea of a new TV show ‘Come Wine with me’ was born!
The WOSA Sommelier World Cup has educated twelve sommeliers from leading restaurants around the world about more than 100 South African wines (and brandy and Amarula!) in a fun yet information-laden way, so that they can become ambassadors for our country’s top wines back home.
WOSA Sommelier World Cup. www.wosasommelier.co.za
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage