After years of intensive training Heinrich Bothman – our very own “wine farm-acist” – recently became the first qualified sommelier in the Robertson Wine Valley in the Western Cape.
Bothman, wine columnist for Food For Mzansi and public relations officer at De Wetshof Wine Estate in Robertson, completed his Cape Sommelier qualification, putting him in Mzansi’s wine elite. It might also have brought his dream of starting the first black-owned wine brand from this wine region a few steps closer to reality.
Having grown up in this farming region since he was born there in the 80’s he knows the community struggles very well. He grew up in the “askies huisies” (translated to “pardon me houses”) and only discovered the magical world of wine later in his life, even as Robertson received more recognition as a distinctive and vibrant wine region.
We get to know the first certified Cape Sommelier of the Robertson Wine Valley.
How did your career in wine start?
I started out in banking and found my way into the wine industry as an accounts payable clerk before realising the importance of the quality of service. For the last eight years I have been working in the hospitality side of the wine industry.
What training did you do before embarking on the Cape Sommelier qualification?
I completed a Wine Evaluation Judging Certificate at Stellenbosch University in 2017, followed by a Business of Wine Qualification from the Graduate School of Business (GSB) in 2018. In 2019 I qualified as a Garagiste Small Scale Winemaker from Stellenbosch University. The more I know, the more I want to know. I’m currently busy with studies at the Michael Fridjhon Judging Academy.
What was your motivation behind qualifying as a Cape Sommelier?
While I was busy with the Cape Wine Academy courses, I saw this qualification and realized that Robertson does not have a certified Sommelier. This gave me a goal to work towards and I thought that if someone from the Robertson district can achieve this, anyone with determination and passion can. My goal was to inspire the youth in our area to excel and see the opportunities as they present themselves.
What do you think is the understanding of people in your area of the position of a sommelier?
Sommelier is still a vague concept in our area, they don’t really know how to pronounce the word “suh-mel-yay”. Top restaurateurs understand the position very well and are open for suggestions.
Tell us about the course:
It’s an intense seven module course for those who have completed one year practical experience in the hospitality industry. Intense research is required to complete the assignments, but the hardest part waits at the end of the journey with a rigorous practical exam.
Module 1: South African Wine Course (theory only) 16 hrs learning.
Module 2: The Certificate Course, which includes both a written and a practical wine tasting examination. 45 hrs learning.
Module 3: Wines of the World course (theory only) 28 hrs learning (or completion of the Diploma wine course would fulfil this requirement)
Module 4: Experience: Practical training in a fine dining establishment that serves wine and food, for a minimum of one year (references are required).
Module 5: Wine and Food course. 4 hrs learning.
Module 6: Submission of four assignments (e.g. drawing up a wine list and from establishing a vineyard to marketing there-of) 42 hrs learning.
Module 7: Practical presentation of wine and food session. 4 hrs.
Taking on a course like this takes a lot of determination. It took me 4+ years to complete as it takes a lot of time and financial commitment to complete this and have a full-time job. Free time went to working at various fine dining restaurants and one of the lodges in Robertson to gain as much practical experience as possible. It was an exhausting, but also incredibly rewarding, experience.
What’s next for you?
Now that I have the qualification “this side of the mountain”, I can give back to high end restaurants in our area and educate patrons visiting the Robertson district. Robertson is underrated, even educated students that learn about viticulture and oenology are disillusioned about what it means to farm in Robertson. I want to be that ambassador for the Robertson district and promote Robertson as a culinary hub that has farm sophistication.
I have so many dreams! I want to help raise the per capita wine consumption per person and assist by training restaurant staff properly. And last but not least, I dream of creating a black-owned wine brand in our area that speaks to the serious wine drinker, but also entices the novice.
Would you encourage young people to choose wine as a career?
Most definitely, there are so many aspects to wine – from transporting it, logistics, front of house, winemaking, viticulture, sommelier, marketing – the list just goes on and on… Coke has a slogan: “pleasure in reach of arm’s length”. The wine industry wants to be there and we can achieve that through being consistent with service and a quality product. It is a rewarding industry, as you supply the demand and see patrons’ satisfaction as they leave and return a year later or even a few months later – you make friends and opportunity starts knocking on your door. Just be patient…