The inaugural Best Sommelier of South Africa competition, organised by the South African Sommelier Association (SASA), has been won by Gareth Ferreira.
Not only does Ferreira win the coveted title, he will also represent South Africa at the prestigious Best Sommelier of the World competition taking place in Mendoza, Argentina, in April this year. Here, he will face more than 55 other candidates in a bid to win the title "Best Sommelier of the World", currently held by Paolo Basso from Switzerland. Best Sommelier of the World is only awarded every three years.
The Best Sommelier of South Africa competition took place at The Taj Cape Town yesterday (Monday January 11, 2016) as part of SASA's ongoing bid to raise the standard of beverage service in the local hospitality industry. The contest tests the art of the sommelier, not just wine knowledge and the ability to recognise a wine when tasted blind, but the ability to engage the client, the technicality of the service, the knowledge of all beverages, and food-and-wine pairing.
The 10 competitors were put through their paces by an experienced panel including Michele Chantome, deputy general secretary of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) and president of the Sommeliers of Morocco; Hans Astrom, Best Sommelier of Sweden 1986; and Neil Grant, SASA chair. Several of the questions asked over the course of the day were set by Gerard Basset MW, Best Sommelier of the World 2010.
Competing alongside Gareth Ferreira for the title were Joakim Blackadder (Hoghouse), who finished as second runner-up, Manuel Cabello (Ellerman House), Jeanette Clarke (Ex Amino), Spencer Fondaumiere (Burrata), Denis Garret (Benguela Cove), Marvin Gwese (Cape Grace), Ralph Reynolds (Karibu), Jean-Vincent Ridon (winemaker and consultant), the first runner-up, and Roxan Waldeck (Delaire Graff).
Announcing the winner, Grant said the judges’ decision was unanimous. “With such a strong line-up competing for the title, the judges expected to make tough decisions at every point. It was exceptionally close but, in the end, we agreed wholeheartedly that Gareth deserved the title.
“Thank you and well done to all the competitors, especially runners up Jean-Vincent and Joakim. Your collective knowledge and experience augurs well for the future of the South African hospitality industry. And, of course, congratulations Gareth. It was a pleasure and a privilege to watch you work.”
An overjoyed Ferreira said: “What a day! I’m so happy and so proud to have won the first ever title of Best Sommelier in South Africa. It was extremely tough – my fellow competitors are all at the top of their game – but I’m thrilled I came through. I’m also so looking forward to going to Mendoza and competing internationally. I’ll do my best to do the South African hospitality industry and SASA proud!”
Sponsors of the event included Veuve Clicquot, Nederburg, Reciprocal Trading, Riedel Glassware and The Taj Cape Town.
JOURNEY INTO HOSPITALITY
Ferreira flew in from London to compete for the South African title. His journey into hospitality started with two years at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida, in restaurants. He began his wine career at the Ritz-Carlton in Doha, Qatar, working in the wine bar and fine-dining restaurant in the hotel. On returning to South Africa in 2010, he worked at The Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg, first as assistant food and beverage Manager and later as hotel sommelier.
During this time, he passed his certified sommelier exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers and represented South Africa at the Chaîne des Rôtisseur International Sommelier Competition in Athens, Greece. Then came a move to senior sommelier at the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai, a 14-month stint during which he passed his advanced sommelier exam before returning to The Saxon as head sommelier and beverage manager.
In November 2014 he took a sommelier position at the Michelin-starred Launceston Place Restaurant in London and, after 6 months, was promoted to head sommelier. While at Launceston Place, he won the Wines of Australia Blind Tasting Competition, open to all sommeliers and the trade in London, was runner-up in the Imbibe Sommelier Challenge, and received the prestigious Acorn Award which honours the 30 brightest hospitality stars in the UK under 30 years of age.
Recently, Ferreira joined 67 Pall Mall, a wine-focused private members club with one of the most extensive wine lists in Europe, as assistant head sommelier under the tutelage of master sommelier Ronan Sayburn.