This Tourism Week. 20 September 2012: World Sommeliers competition in Cape Town tomorrow

This week: 

Does South Africa have the world’s best nose?

Is Jeff Lopes the world’s best professional wine connoisseur?

We’ll know after tomorrow, when sommeliers from twelve of the world’s top wine drinking countries go – um – nose-to-nose against a panel of four of the world’s most discerning wine fundis during a marathon 8-hour test at Cape Town’s Mount Nelson Hotel.

“This is the equivalent of the World Cup for wine lovers,” said celebrity chef Francois Ferreira.

The Concours International des Jeunes Sommeliers is one of the programmes through which the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs works to improve the standard of wine appreciation around the world – but it’s also a hotly contested competition which demands extraordinary knowledge and skills.

The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs – affectionately as ‘the Chaîne’ (it’s pronounced “shen”) is an international association of gastronomy with more than 25,000 members in 70 countries. Its international president, Yam Atallah, says in his welcome address on the Chaine’s web site that, “The distinctive character of our association is to bring together amateurs and professionals from all over the world, whether they are hoteliers, restaurateurs, executive chefs or sommeliers, in the appreciation of fine cuisine.   

“The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs also has a goal to encourage and develop skills and ‘know-how’ of young chefs and sommeliers worldwide through the support of our ‘Jeunes Chefs Rôtisseurs’ and the ‘Jeunes Sommeliers’ competitions.”

“Jeunes Sommeliers are wine professionals of between 21 and 35 years of age,” said Francois, who is the current president of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs South Africa, and who has partnered with immediate past president Allison Rutowitz on the competition’s local organising committee.  

“Every one of the finalists who’ll be competing in Cape Town this week has an enormous knowledge of the wine and spirits of the world, and also has a particularly well developed nose and palette – you have to, if you’re going to work at their level,” said Francois.  

The competition itself will include an hour-long theory test, blind tastings, practical skills challenges (champagne service, decanting of red wine, glass service, wine and food pairing) and the identification of spirits and liqueurs purely by nose.  

The competitors will also be expected to make corrections to deliberate mistakes in a wine list that will feature both famous and little-known products from around the world.

“This is the first time this competition has ever taken place on the African continent, and that’s a huge honour for South Africa, and our local wine industry,” said Francois.

Entries have been received from Australia, Austria, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, and the USA.  

But the event won’t only be about the hard work of the competition.

“We’ll be taking the competitors to some of the best wine producing regions in the Peninsula – it’s the perfect opportunity to show off the quality and value of South Africa’s wines,” said Francois.  

He said that South Africa’s Jeff Lopes – a twenty-seven-year-old assistant restaurant manager at Johannesburg’s Saxon Boutique Hotel, Villas and Spa – secured his place in the list of international finalists by winning both the regional (Gauteng) and national legs of South Africa’s Jeunes Sommeliers competition earlier this year.

And is Jeff one of the favourites for the title?

“I can’t say,” said Francois. “But I can tell you that you don’t get into a competition like this unless you’re very, very good.”

The winner of the 6th Concours International des Jeunes Sommeliers will be announced at a gala dinner and induction ceremony which will take place at the Table Bay Hotel on Friday, 21 September.  

More information: 

Nurture vs. Nature: Greenways Hotel in Cape Town

African hospitality, German efficiency, and the grace of the Cape – man, if that isn’t a recipe for rare and exceptional, then what is?

I spent three nights at Greenways last week, and it was terribly hard to drag myself away on the final morning. My rooms (they put me in the Clivia suite – separate and generously large lounge and bedroom) were comfortable without being intimidatingly over decorated, and the bathroom was superb – everything thought of and thought through.

But there’s no point in going on and on about the facilities, the extensive gardens, the huge swimming pool, the evocative Cape Dutch architecture, the impeccable interiors – as wonderful as they are – because what really makes Greenways different is its people.

As a tourism professional I am perhaps overly critical, but I couldn’t fault the staff of Greenways in any way. Every single one of them – from receptionist to night auditor, landscaper to waitress – was genuinely friendly (without being familiar), and every one of them showed that they cared for their guests.

I put this down to great recruitment, and even better training. In fact Susanne Faussner-Ringer, the hotel’s managing director, told me that the staff spends most of the quiet winter months in training, and – having had to listen so often to so many hotel owners boasting about the millions they spend on refurbishment and decorating – this was, for me, way, way more impressive.

And the results show.

The restaurant – Ashton’s – is open to guests and the public. I ate in every night. Being vegetarian was no problem (it often is in carnivorous South Africa) – and on the third night, since I didn’t want what was on the menu, I asked if I could perhaps have a stir fry?

“Of course!” And it was damned good.

And by the way – try the jams at breakfast. Susanne makes them: 115 varieties, she told me. 

I was in Cape Town for the E-Tourism Africa Summit, and Greenways is conveniently situated for a quick 10 minute drive to the ICC (if you avoid rush hour, of course). But it also felt a lot like home, and I found that I was able to relax more than I would normally when I’m away on business like that. In fact, I didn’t want to leave – and I put that down to the staff, and the way they treated me.  

Now let’s contrast this with the hotel I stayed in for SATTIC, which we’ll call (no names, no pack drill) the Protea Hotel OR Tambo.  

One person: I met one person (a maître d’ at breakfast) who seemed both friendly and properly trained for her job. And by the time I left the conference, I just couldn’t wait to check out of my room.

One story: I sat down to my first meal in the hotel’s cavernous, echoing, noisy restaurant, and a pretty little thing came up to me and said “Whaddaya want?”

I asked for a bath. She laughed.  

So I suggested a menu. After ten minutes, she obliged.

I asked for a cola tonic and soda, and a grilled hake.  

After fifteen minutes (I checked), a SECOND person arrived and said – “That girl’s a trainee, so she’s not allowed to take your order.

“So whaddaya want?”

I was just too damned irritated to fight, and too tired, thirsty, and hungry to walk out and go and look for a greasy spoon at the airport (which is just five minutes away) where at least I’d be my own waiter. So I repeated my order and spent another fifteen minutes trawling Twitter while I waited for my drink.  

Have no idea how long the plate of fish and three (or was it four?) French fries took to arrive.

Now here’s the thing: room-for-room, there’s no way you can compare  the capital cost of Greenways with the capital cost of the hotel that shall remain nameless. But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because that’s wêreld se goed.

It’s the way I was treated by the staff that made the difference. And that comes down to training, which speaks of management’s care for its fellow humans, its commitment to the principles of responsible tourism – and what it really, actually, deep down, truly feels about its guests.

Also at Greenways, Beauty, the cat. Give her a petting for me wouldya? She’s as sweet natured and friendly as everyone else I met there.

And with cats, that takes some training.  

More information 

Now go away on holiday. It’s in the economy’s best interest
With best Barefoot Wishes – MMARTIN HATCHUEL, Barefoot Writer

Specialist writer for the tourism industry
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