It’s a scenic drive up to Rust en Vrede Estate lined with oak trees, perfectly manicured lawns and picture perfect white posts that lead up to the white washed historic Cape Dutch cellar converted to a restaurant. We sit down at an ancient yellowwood table, hemmed in by two massive glass display cellars, stacked to the brim with fine wine. I decided at the end of that interview that I would take the job. Not that I remember it was ever offered to me.
It was late 2012 when I decided to take the plunge and move from a secure management position in a hotel to a waitering position in a fine dining restaurant. Why? Because as recently as 2012 there were no more than a handful of qualified sommeliers working in South Africa and I wanted to further my career. My only option then was to train under the illustrious Swedish sommelier Joakim Blackadder. How quickly that novelty faded.
We’ve since moved on from those days. I’ve managed my own wine programs and Kimmi has gone from importing fine wine to even running a brewery. But still amongst the highlights of my career were those two years we spent tweaking, tuning and perfecting what can arguably considered the best fine dining experience in SA at the time. Although Abigail never really maged to get over her star struckness long enough before political ideology further muddied the water of what should have been an unbiased assessment of the best dining experiences in SA. We were robbed John! We were robbed.
From service excellence to Decanter wine list awards. Best Wine List in Africa and the Middle East and the list goes on. A trophy cabinet full of validation slowly gathering dust and fading from memory, but the friendships seem to have lasted.
After first going our separate ways Joakim and myself later got back together in 2016 to form Somm Hospitality Enterprises with the aim of providing consultation to the wine service industry. While we both also serve on the board of the South African Sommelier Association. Today, I’m no longer the apprentice and Joakim no longer leads the team, I do. Although nobody seems to have told him that.
Soon after we were joined by our partners Esmé Groenewald and Isabella Immenkamp, both respected restaurateurs and sommeliers in their own right and went on to assist some of the top restaurants and wine programs in SA. Before we once again parted ways for Joakim and Isabella to set up a base in Sweden where we can now export our amazing South African products too, while Joakim travels back and forth.
Twenty twenty saw yet another chapter written, this time perhaps a little against our will. As Covid-19 forced our hand, closed down our Somerset West wine bar and forced us to re-look our business model with renewed focus and a reaffirmed commitment to collaboration. We have since joined forces with some of the top artisans in the industry, including then sous chef Juan van Zyl, who we worked with at R&V and who now heads up our food offering.
Somm & Co. strives to curate a bespoke sommelier’s retail collection with fun, edgy and contemporary wine drinking venues that focus on collaborative brands that celebrate our combined South African heritage.