In my humble opinion, the one thing that lets high-end South African restaurants down more often that not is the professionalism of their service. The truth of the matter is that, unlike in France where being a waiter or a wine waiter is a life-long career, most people serving food or wine in South Africa are only doing it as a stop-gap measure while they study, wait to be discovered as models, or need to make a bit of extra cash. Which is fine as far as it goes, but if you are visiting from abroad and visiting our top restaurants, you will probably be expecting the same sort of knowledgable and professional service that you are used to getting at home. And you are likely to be disappointed, because a 19-year old first year student from Patensie moonlighting as a wine waiter is unlikely to be able to tell you which French red will be the best match for your kudu steak.
Which is where Wines of South Africa's Project Laduma comes in.
WOSA is a not for profit organisation which promotes the sale of all South African wine in international markets. As an industry, the South African wine industry wants to contribute to the legacy of the 2010 FIFA World Cup (due to be hosted by South Africa) and do this in a way which will also enhance the visitor experience. To this end, WOSA aims to train 2010 wine stewards (or sommeliers) by 2010. Half of these sommeliers will be drawn from those currently working in the hospitality industry, and the other half will be drawn from people who are currently unemployed. The project has the full backing of hospitality industry body, Fedhasa.
The wine steward course will cover knowledge of wine varietals and their flavour characteristics; knowledge of wine production; knowledge of wine regions; food and wine pairing knowledge; wine service procedure skills; guest interaction skills; and service mindset and motivation. Future training programmes are planned to include advanced wine service courses and sommeliers courses. Trainees receive certification from a SETA accredited training system, which also assists with job placements after training has been completed.
So how is this training of 2010 wine stewards to be achieved?
On the 24th of July this year, WOSA launched a wine brand that has been selected through a blind tasting by the Cape Wine Makers Guild. WOSA had invited the entire industry to submit wines for this project and six winners were chosen to be marketed under the brand name Fundi. The word is derived from the isiZulu word umfundi or learner and has come to mean an expert in South African English slang. Each bottle comes with a hand-beaded decoration which can be used as a wineglass marker, and these are sourced from crafters who are not in formal employment
The Fundi range consists of six wines and will be sold in restaurants and retail outlets across South Africa for a limited period. The proceeds of all the wine sales will contribute towards the wine steward training programme. The wine will we sold at approximately R120 in retail and R150 in restaurants. A total of 17 500 cases of wine will have to be sold in order to raise the 4.5 million Rand needed for the training.
So next time you are perusing a wine menu, look out for the Fundi range, or log on to Cybercellar and buy a wine that will leave a lasting legacy of hope.