Some people go to work and spend the whole day staring and typing into a screen, but some people get to have much more fun. We speak with One & Only sommelier Luvo Ntezo on the career move that changed his life, Netflix and why it’s important that South Africans drink a lot more wine.
- There are so many definitions and descriptions of your job title, what is a sommelier?
A somelier is someone who has a vast understanding of wine, spirits, sometimes cigars and the ability to pair those with food, and to be able to, without arrogance, convey in the most simplistic way, this knowledge to diners. A sommelier is not a wine servant but an ambassador of the wine industry and the hospitality industry. My job is really to seek out people who will drink and appreciate wine.Those people are drinking whiskey and beer right now, and they will continue doing so if they order a bottle of wine and I bombard them with my opinion and irrelevant knowledge. I’ve learnt to edit what I do and don’t share with diners, it isn’t fair to tell a diner that your Pinot Noir has a triple five clone PH level of this, harvested at whatever, it’s irrelevant, it comes across as arrogant and it’s really not good manners. We’re trying to make wine appealing, not intimidating.
- In research for this interview, we watched a Netflix documentary about…
Called Somme? Every Somme will tell you that they’ve been asked if they’ve watched Somme. Nope, I haven’t. My wife, bless her, downloaded it last night, and I said no thanks, tonight I’m going to watch an episode of Lucifer. She’s a Christian so she loathes Lucifer, while I’m an atheist and I’d prefer not to watch a show about my day job. Hey, these days everyone has more than one screen and you don’t have to choose.
- How has becoming a somelier affected your daily life?
My career in wine completely transformed my life. Seventeen years ago, I was living in Khayelitsha. I was living in a shack, and I had nothing. I decided to leave home and find a job in the city. I took a job at a restaurant, expressed an interest in wine, and the rest is history. Today, I have almost entirely covered my bond in Durbanville, I drive cars I didn’t buy through a bank, I take holidays abroad that I come back from debt-free, I do things that I would never have been able to do. I’ve developed an incredible appreciation for good food, and a far better relationship with my family. My job has also taught me to be humble, not arrogant, disciplined and to appreciate what I have.
- We’ve heard a little bit about how you give back. Tell us about it.
South Africa is a country of about 55 million people, we produce about 1 billion litres of wine per year, we drink an average of about 4,5 litres of wine per person per year. Now that is not sustainable. Understandably, we are a multi-racial, multi-cultural society where some people don’t drink for religious reasons, some don’t drink for cultural reasons, some people drink but don’t drink wine because it’s a ‘white man’s beverage’ or it’s a snobbish beverage, and all of that cripples the industry. This has become a growing concern for me. So I looked at my life and I thought about what I can do. I have two off days, Sundays and Monday, Sundays I spend with my kids and wife, Mondays I travel into the winelands. And over the last few years, I have created the tradition of bringing along friends, friends of friends and fellow Africans with me to the winelands to share my appreciation for this incredible industry that South Africa is famous for. These trips have formalised into a club called BLACC. People learn about viticulture, onology, wine understanding, wine judging, wine tasting, wine pairing, and the incredible culture of wine appreciation in South Africa. And it functions mainly to show black people that wine is not a white beverage, it’s a South African beverage. I truly believe that South Africa can be united by wine. As a black man, I have been treated well all over the world and I want to share that with my fellow Africans, and give them a new perspective on wine.
- The Cape is going through a drought at the moment. What does a drought do to wine?
In agriculture, you need a lot of water, in viticulture you don’t. Table grapes need a lot of water to become juicy and sweet while wine grapes are sour and small anyway, and their roots dig deeper. However, when it doesn’t rain, the yield will be less and you can lose up to a ton of grapes. In order to remain afloat, the wine producer ups the price of the wine, but this may deter people from buying that second bottle of wine when dining. This means you don’t sell your vintage in one year, you sell it in two, it costs a hell of a lot to store, and by the time you sell your last bottle in your vintage, the price of petrol has gone up and that initial upping of the price is worthless. So the drought will affect the wines, yes, definitely. However, 2015 was much worse, this year it won’t be as bad.