During April, Wine Mag featured an interview with Londolozi Procurement and Controls Manager and Sommerlier Kim Drake. We have previously featured an interview with Kim on our blog but the focus on this is a little different. Find out more about how Kim’s journey with wine began as well as some helpful suggestions on food and wine pairings and her views on the South African wine industry.
How did you become interested in wine?
My interest was sparked in 2010 shortly after I started working at Londolozi Game Reserve. A brand ambassador from Villiera was visiting and did a presentation on MCC for our Camp Managers. His enthusiasm and explanation on how bubbly is made right down to how a muselet resembles a dog mussel (and hence I’ll never forget the name) was admirable and got me thinking more about wine as a lifestyle and culture rather than just another alcoholic drink.
Where did you study to become a sommelier?
When I initially developed my interest in wine I did some research into what the Cape Wine Academy and Wine & Spirits Education Trust had to offer. I had a few options to weigh up. First I was employed full time in the Lowveld (far from the Cape), so anything I did had to either be correspondence or something that allowed for self-study with short courses I could do in time off. Secondly, as the majority of our guests were international visitors I wanted something which was internationally recognized, and a qualification which our guests could relate to. Thirdly, I was looking for a qualification which was more focused on actual wine information than service as to me wine is my hobby, and the more I know about it the better. I settled on WSET and completed level 3 with Cathy Marston in 2014. Level 3 was extremely intense but it’s definitely one of the most interesting courses I’ve ever done and Cathy made it fun at the same time. Tasting (drinking) wine during class definitely made it worthwhile!
What do you love most about your job?
Interacting with guests from all over the world, being able to share knowledge about South African wines and in turn learning more about wines from other regions of the world from our guests.
What do you consider the fundamental principles of food and wine matching?
Rule 1: Does the combination taste good? If yes – well done, if no – try again. I’m not a stickler for the rules of food and wine pairing and often get the beady eye from guests when I start pairing red wines to chicken and fish. As long as one remembers the basics; weight of the dish, sweetness, acidity, saltiness, bitterness, and every chef’s favourite and every sommeliers worst ingredient – chilli, all should be good.
What do you like most in a wine?
I enjoy a wine that is crafted true to its varietal. If I’m drinking wine then it must reflect the varietal/s characteristics and the terroir of where the wine comes from. It mustn’t be fermented / aged / blended in a manner to produce a wine that reflects different characteristics just for the sake of fashion. When a winemaker gets the wine right, it is pure joy, like sipping a wonderfully painted artwork from the Louvre.
Which wine is most versatile with food?
I’d have to say Chardonnay. Chardonnay in itself it such a versatile grape, there are so many options available when making Chardonnay which allows for so many different styles, from unoaked / French / American oak, ageing on lees, fermentation temperatures, etc, etc. When it comes to pairing with food there’s almost a style for every dish, even for those Mozambiquan Prawns lathered in Peri Peri one could pair a full bodied Chardonnay with a bit of residual sugar.
What is your favourite food and wine combination?
Grilled kabeljou with lemon, caper and fennel hollandaise paired with the Springfield “Wild Yeast” Chardonnay 2011. One has to remember that kabeljou is a rather delicate fish and can be easily overpowered by wine, thus an unoaked lighter style of Chardonnay works well. The Springfield “Wild Yeast” Chardonnay is unoaked but has had 100 days of lees contact which gives it a wonderful full-bodied impression and complements the hollandaise wonderfully; the combination is similar to eating caramel treat out of the tin with a teaspoon.
Do wine ratings and scores matter?
No. Although each year I can’t wait for November to come along for the annual edition of Platters to be released, I eagerly anticipate the day like a child waiting for Christmas morning. But I like to think of it more as a guide than taking it as the holy word. There are so many competitions out there as well that it makes it really difficult to follow. I’ve tasted some wines that have 3 / 4 different awards labels on them that are really awful. At the end of the day it comes down to do you like it or not?
What’s the best (most rewarding) and worst (most frustrating) part about interacting with customers?
My best is when guests refer to South African wines as the best in the world. I am very proud of the South African wine industry and what we are accomplishing and I believe we produce some of the best wine so when international guests acknowledge this it puts a smile on my face. My worst – I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to explain and failed miserably at explaining that Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault – it is not a different style of Pinot Noir!
Which variety or style of wine do you think is most underrated?
Cabernet Franc – it makes such beautiful fragrant single varietal wines but not many producers make it. I think it all comes down to marketing and education of the general public, until more people know what wonderful wine it can make it won’t really sell, hence it won’t be made.
How important is the glass you drink from?
As long as it is a wine glass! My favourite is a Bordeaux style glass, it has a lovely tulip shaped bowl, perfect for swirling and concentrating aromas towards the nose. Other than that I’m not too fussy, it sure is nice to have a specific Riedel glass for each varietal but not essential.
If you are not drinking wine, what are you drinking?
I must be sick if I’m not drinking wine. Although I can easily sip on an ice cold refreshing gin and tonic on a hot summer’s day, Hendricks with a cucumber stick please.
Who do you especially admire within the wine industry?
Ken Forrester – he has done leaps and bounds for Chenin Blanc in the industry, so much so that if I had to name a white varietal as being uniquely South African (yes I know it originates from France), I’d say it’s Chenin. He is extremely passionate and I love listening to him debate screw cap vs cork.
What is the South African wine industry getting right and what is it getting wrong?
I love the experimentation and a constant drive to identifying what grows best where, the influx of young wine makers with experience from abroad and the application of new techniques and technology. We aren’t doing Pinotage any justice. I believe it is such a wonderful varietal and there are some superb examples out there. But there are some which are manipulated to reflect heavy coffee and chocolate notes and often have labels which depict this and I believe that these are harming the reputation of Pinotage.
How do we get more South Africans to drink wine?
More education for the general public with accessible media. There is the Sediment show on Kyknet now which I think is great but Kyknet is viewed by a limited demographic. We need to be doing more for the wider public, more TV shows, more printed media, more presentations by winemakers. Especially in areas such as Gauteng and Mpumalanga. People who grew up in the Cape are more exposed to wine whereas people from Mpumalanga are more akin to grab a brandy and coke than a glass of wine. The more we expose people to good quality wine the more they will buy into it.
What has been your best wine experience / fondest wine memory?
The first time I tasted wine from a barrel. I was visiting Rijk’s Private Cellar in Tulbagh in 2012 and got to try the ageing Pinotage from a barrel with a “wine thief”, I was so excited that I was sampling the magical juice years before it would be drunk by the rest of the world from a bottle that I messed half the wine down my shirt leaving me feeling rather embarrassed in front of the assistant winemaker.
Kim’s Latest Wine suggestion for an Autumn Evening:
Winter is fast approaching, the sun is setting earlier, and the evenings slightly cooler. Whilst it is still too warm here at Londolozi to dig into a full-bodied red wine after work, it’s a little on the cool side for a fresh crisp Sauvignon Blanc. I am currently really enjoying medium to full bodied Chardonnay, perfect for our autumn afternoons.
One in particular is a new addition to our wine list, the Bartinney Chardonnay. Bartinney lies on the slopes of the Helshoogte Pass (Hell’s heights), hence their slogan “wine made on a mountain”, just outside Stellenbosch in Banghoek and is owned by Rose & Michael Jordaan. The vineyards are planted on steep, unterraced slopes which mean that mechanisation is not possible and all harvesting has to be done by hand.
A rather interesting label on the bottle features a “liberated, winged human form”, which emulates the lofty heights at which Bartinney farm. Bartinney have named this figure “Elevage” which is a French wine making term which means to ascend the humble grapes to a more noble form, ie wine!
This beautifully crafted Chardonnay has lovely aromas of apricot blossoms, lemon, vanilla and oak, on the palate there are wonderful flavours of pineapple and ripe pair, it’s a lovely rich, creamy and nutty wine with lovely acidity to balance the wine.
Interview originally published on: www.winemag.co.za. Read More.
Photographs by Elsa Young.