Top SA sommeliers are taking the experience and expanding it beyond the walls of conventional restaurants
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While the rest of South Africa baked banana bread and learnt how to make their own alcohol, two well-known sommeliers, Spencer Fondaumiere and Tinashe Nyamdoka, looked beyond the physical isolation in lockdown and used the time to create an innovative digital platform called Somm on Call.
Somm on Call takes the sommelier experience and moves it away from the traditional restaurant floor and makes it available to more people through the digital space.
“Sommeliers curate wine lists looking for wines that are unique and that add value to the restaurants or wine bars whose lists they manage," said Fondaumiere.
"They make the guests' experience truly special by offering wines that they would not ordinarily just pick up anywhere and tell the stories about what makes the wine special and why it is on the list. Somm on Call fulfils these functions.
“Every second Monday we will release a selection of wines that we find interesting for any number of reasons. We will tell the story of the wine, describe it in our own words, and make it available for sale. Most often these wines are in very limited quantities so it is on a first come first serve basis.
“Then every second Thursday after the release we will have an Instagram live session open to anyone that may want to chat about the wine or wine in general,” he said.
Asked when and how it came about, Fondaumiere said he and Nyamdoka were neighbours at The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, Cape Town, where they both worked on the floor. They always planned on doing something together but never got the opportunity. Then the lockdown happened and they had a catch-up both lamenting the state of the industry and their new situation.
In that conversation which took place in the heart of the hard lockdown, they both realised that they were getting similar calls from friends and acquaintances, asking about wine if it was the right time to open a bottle they had been keeping, and if what they had been offered was a good deal. He said they realised that though the restaurants were closed people were still out there curious and thirsty, and the idea was born from that.
“We then pulled in Colleen Norkie a digital marketing expert who I worked with when I was at Warwick and Attie Louw from Opstal estate to assist with the operations and legalities and Somm on Call became a reality.
“Our offering will predominantly be wine but we will have a few other interesting products on offer as well. We guarantee everything on there will be interesting. From, small-batch releases, experimental products, brand new lines, older wines in their perfect drinking windows or just lesser-known wines that need some time in the spotlight,” said Fondaumiere.