Distell Inter Hotel Challenge | Meet the Wine Stewards

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What would food be without the perfect wine pairing? We’ve already met the chefs taking part in the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge, so, ahead of the Awards on the 3rd of August, it’s now time to meet the wine stewards. Each wine steward was assigned a Distell wine and alcohol brand to work and pair with their team’s menu, and they were also tasked with creating a signature cocktail. So, read on to find out more about each of the team wine stewards taking part in the challenge, how they got started in the industry and what makes them passionate about wine.

Western Cape

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Siyabonga Mthembu | The Vineyard Hotel

“My journey in the hospitality industry started at The President Hotel in 2009 where I worked as a waiter in the Islands Restaurant,” says Siyabonga. “In 2012 I left to pursue my private business dream of selling fish and chips. It was a success, however, I decided to return to The President Hotel in 2013, once again as a waiter. My key responsibilities were to assist the sommelier in food and wine pairings.” He joined The Vineyard team in 2017, working as a pool waiter at Splash Café, before moving onto room service, then later to The Square Restaurant as a waiter. “My love for expanding my knowledge about wine has led me here, for the past several years I have learnt the evolution of wine; from the grape in the vineyard to the wine in the glass,” says Siyabonga. “Furthermore, I love being able to give my guests an unforgettable experience when dining at The Square Restaurant. It is the intangible moments that create an experience for guests, and I pride myself on continuously delivering a service that is beyond expectations.”

Lovejoy Neshamba | Ellerman House

“I take pride in delivering excellent service to our guests,” says Lovejoy. “I’ve always been fascinated by Sommeliers; their service, passion and knowledge about wine are truly inspiring. This fuelled my curiosity which has now turned into a passion. From my first bitter tastings in 2011 at the Round House Restaurant to today where I have a deeper knowledge and understanding for different flavours and what affects those flavours, I can say I’m well on my way to achieving a dream of being able to seamlessly provide wine service with my way.” Lovejoy joined Ellerman House in 2018: “This exposed me to South Africa’s best wines and thus advancing my palate and appreciation for this massive industry. The best part is tasting new and different wines and sharing this with guests when conducting tastings at Ellerman House,” he says.

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Sandi Notwala | Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

Sandi is usually heard by his bellowing baritone laugh before he is seen and when you do see him he has a proud beaming smile to match. He loves nothing more than making guests happy by chatting about the surrounding wine regions, local gins and making cocktails. Nine years ago he joined the Green Team clearing alien plants and rehabilitating the land, an initiative by the Grootbos Foundation. After his contract ended 2 years later he moved back into freelance construction work, and later, when he found himself living in Stanford, he began work at Springfontein Wine Estate working alongside the horticulturist and viticulturist, planting vines, pruning and tending to the soils.

One day he saw a poster at the taxi rank – the Grootbos Foundation was offering to educate interested students in the hospitality industry and he jumped at the opportunity. Grootbos’ sommelier gave a lecture and after that Sandi knew he wanted to work at the bar and learn more about wine. He was offered a position with Grootbos in the lodge and three years later he enjoys it more than ever.

Rachel Fundiswa Philile | Lanzerac Hotel & Spa

Hailing originally from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, Rachel Fundiswa Philile (AKA Fundi) settled in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape two years ago where she fell in love with wine. Up until she discovered her passion for the fruits of the vine, Fundi enjoyed a varied career with positions all over the country, including serving as a Restaurant Hostess at the Palazzo at Montecasino in Johannesburg, Gauteng.

Once the wine bug bit, she obtained a Level 1 Certificate from the Sommeliers Academy, which saw her learning all about the wines of South Africa. She put this knowledge into practice in her role as a Tasting Room Assistant at Anura Vineyard, before becoming a Wine Steward at the Lanzerac Hotel & Spa.

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Bongani Mabala | Marriott Crystal Towers Cape Town

With his first job in the hotel industry as a Houseman at Mount Nelson Hotel before moving on to Crystal Towers in the same position. He was later promoted from Houseman to Public Area supervisor and a year after that was promoted to Kitchen Supervisor. “That is where my passion for cooking and serving wines to guests started to unleash itself, I never knew I had it in myself – all thanks to the guidance of superiors around me,” says Bongani. He was later approached by the Banqueting Department for a role with them, an opportunity he grabbed with both hands, and his passion for food and wine went up a gear. Bongani was then promoted to the in-room dining department as Supervisor, and in 2016 was promoted to the Bar Department, where he currently works.

Tara Yon | NH The Lord Charles Hotel

Hailing from Gordon’s Bay, Tara is devoted to self-growth: “[I] believe that this competition will be a huge benefit for me expanding my capabilities in the Food and Beverage industry by broadening my knowledge of wines and pairings,” says Tara. “I believe that this competition will help me further expand my knowledge and skills within the industry. I feel that this is a stepping-stone that will allow me to lay the foundation to endless possibilities. I find that each opportunity and challenge I receive is preparing me for the amazing things that are yet to come. I live by the motto, ‘Don’t go through life, grow through life’ as it inspires you to not allow the challenges of life to bring you down and instead to learn from those experiences to help you grow.”

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Mxolisi Matthew Ntsele | One&Only Cape Town

Mxolisi initially pursued his engineering studies on a full-time basis and working part-time, and in 2009 he went on to join Electro Technical Agency as a junior automation technician. It was due to relocation in 2011 that he was in between work and an opportunity arose to join a fine dining establishment in his home town, Durban. After three years of being active in hospitality from waiter to barman, self-taught barrista and eventually restaurant manager, he has presented a new opportunity in e-commerce. Between 2014 and 2016 he worked with an e-commerce retailer for a leather gallery, yet a journey to Cape Town would soon redirect Matthew back into hospitality. In 2016 he decided to make the Mother City his home, working first at the Cattle Baron, then the Kove Collection, before joining the One&Only Cape Town as a waiter – throughout the years Matthew has maintained his keenness for wines and spirits and seeks to expand his knowledge to grow as a sommelier.

Ayabonga Makupula | The President Hotel

“At first it was all about finding a job after finishing Matric that led me into hospitality and my very first job was at the Grand West Casino and Entertainment World,” says Ayabonga. “For two months I worked as a kitchen cleaner and fortunately for me, the Banqueting Manager saw potential in me and took me through training to become a waiter and houseman. I conquered that as well and in just a few months I was sent to the Ciro Coffee Academy to learn how to make cappuccinos, café latte and espresso and by this time I was already working as a part-time Barman whenever we had functions. It was then that I discovered the love I have for hospitality, the love of working with people from different backgrounds and different places.” Ayabonga worked in the banqueting department until 2014, then moving to a job with Fedics before moving to The President Hotel in 2015. “It was here where my growth game became huge. Every day there was something new for me to love and this is where I soon discovered the love I had for wine. Not only love for enjoying a glass of wine every now and then but the confidence of being able to serve and confidently be able to freely be able to upsell my wines.”

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Solomon Banda | Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront

“I was born and educated in Zambia, but I wanted to travel, to meet people and experience new cultures. After some travelling I found myself in the rainbow nation filled with people of different cultures, this is where I decided to set down my roots and picked up my marketing studies. It was during this time I started working as a waiter in a family restaurant,” says Solomon. “I enjoyed learning about the food and wine so much, the different notes on the wine and how they pair so well with specific dishes. This curiosity led me to a job at a Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. I spent this time enhancing my knowledge of hotels, cuisine and wine.” He later decided to move to the city and found his new home at the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, where he’s been for the last two years. “My love and passion for the job come from spending time with our loyal return guests and meeting the new ones.  I take pride in ensuring all our guests receive the very best service and that they have only the best guest experiences.”

Nambitha Jo-Anne Ndum-Ndum | Southern Sun Cape Sun & SunSquare City Bowl

“I’m a 24-year-old waiter at Southern Sun Cape Sun,” says Nambitha “I’ve been working for Tsogo Sun for the past two years. I studied Hospitality & Tourism at the Durban University of Technology but dropped out in my second year due to lack of funding. Six months later I was employed at Tsogo Sun, and that’s where my love for wines began. Like any other waiter, I served it for guests but somehow I just wanted to know more about it. I would read the labels at the back of the bottle to interact more with the international guests who were interested in South African wines.”

She completed online Lobster Ink courses  – Wines (Burgundy & Bordeaux), Whisky, Bar and Food & Beverages – and went on to study South African Brandies at the Cape Wine Academy, completing Level 1 in Wines at WSET. Nambitha was then introduced to BLACC by her supervisor Miss Adams, which provides another learning platform as the sommelier organization participate in wine tastings around the Western Cape.

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Ongezo Lumka Jack | Southern Sun The Cullinan & Southern Sun Waterfront

Ongezo Lumka Jack studied at the Cape Peninsula Universty of Technology, studying Information Technology for two years before leaving due to a lack of funds, unsure of what to do next. Luckily,“I started working for Tsogo Sun as a waiter in 2015, at SunSquare Gardens. I then went to work at the Southern Sun The Cullinan in 2017 and now I work at the Southern Sun Waterfront as a Bartender,” says Ongezo. “Taking part in this competition as a Wine Steward is both humbling and an exciting opportunity for me because a competition like this will hopefully open a lot of doors for me. I am looking forward to the excitement and learning opportunity as I am a bubbly person who is eager to learn. I am prepared to put in the time and effort as I want to go very far with this competition and hopefully win the prize,” she says.

Matakatso Moshoeshoe | Spier Hotel

“I am originally from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, coming from a small family of four where I was the youngest,” says Matakatso. “I grew up being a very curious child and always interested to know more, this shaped me to be the woman I am today.” Matakatso realised that she loved working with people when she began doing promotional work after high school, and she later joined a non-profit organization called Love Life, where the focus was on educating the youth on living a healthy lifestyle. In 2014 she became interested in wine, completing a preliminary wine course and finding her passion. She went on to work as a junior wine steward at Sun International’s Boardwalk Hotel in Port Elizabeth, and she is currently part of Spier’s team as a wine advisor.

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Jonathan Wakefield | The Table Bay Hotel

Up and coming young sommelier, Jonathan Wakefield is a Food and Beverage Supervisor at Sun International’s five-star The Table Bay Hotel. “It’s a huge honour to even to be considered for the competition. The level of competition has always been exceptionally high so I’m looking forward to seeing how I stack up against the rest of the participants.  Just to be part of it is a great source of motivation for me. It will also be a great networking opportunity to interact with people in the industry,” he says.

Born and raised in Cape Town, Wakefield has been interested in food, wine and alcohol in general for as long as he can remember.  At the end of 2013, he got the opportunity to work on a luxury cruise liner, and towards the end of 2016, he became a sommelier onboard the same ship and completed the Court of Master Sommeliers-certified level exam. This was a change of pace and style for Wakefield.  “Becoming a sommelier was the next part of my personal journey with the industry and alcohol itself. It is a specialised position that is recognised and respected globally. With the world of wine and food pairing constantly changing and evolving, there is very little chance of me ever becoming bored.”  He has been with The Table Bay for just over a year and loves that no two days are ever the same.

Malitha Kupani | TAJ Cape Town

“I am from the Eastern Cape, where I matriculated at Bhongolethu High School in 2012. In 2013 I had the opportunity to visit Cape Town to work at the Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay,” says Malitha. “It is where I got the training to be a service ambassador and my passion for the hospitality industry was formed.  In 2016 I got the opportunity to join the luxury 5* Taj Hotel.  My first role was as a breakfast server and then soon after I started also to work as a dinner server.  This is where I learnt about wines and beverages.  I am fascinated by all the various wine varietals, whisky’s and gins, especially the local South African crafted gin. I am very excited to be part of the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge and I am looking forward to this journey.”

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Tafadzwa Ndlovu | The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa

Tafadzwa was born in Zimbabwe on 21 April 1994. He arrived in South Africa in 2015 to finish his training in operating heavy machinery, e.g. earth moving equipment. After being convinced by a family member to go and try his hand at barista training, Tafadzwa joined the academy GroundUp, which focuses on coffee training and barista skills. After completing his theory training, Taffy was placed at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa to complete his practical assessment. Needless to say, his work ethic and pure determination didn’t go unnoticed and landed him a position at the hotel in 2016. From there on Taffy has excelled in his duties and was promoted to Waiter in the Azure Restaurant last year.

Tinashe Chirikure | Belmond Mount Nelson

“Working as a wine steward at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel has introduced me to a once unknown world that exists in and around Cape Town,” says Tinashe, who is competing as part of the Belmond Mount Nelson hotel though he has recently left the property to pursue new horizons. “From the unique crafted bottles of Pinotage that will warm any chilly evening or a glass of bubbles that you would swear came from the Champagne region.”

“Every day I meet people from all corners of the world and taking them on journeys throughout the Cape Winelands from the comfort of their seat, whilst having a perfectly paired glass of wine only enhances the journey,” says Tinashe.

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Bradly Isaacs | The Royal Portfolio La Residence

“I was born and raised in Franschhoek,” says Bradly Isaacs. “I went to Franschhoek High School and during my school holidays, I worked at La Residence. At the time I was 18 and when I was 19 I worked at The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français for nine years. While I was there, I remember there was a French guest and when I served him some South African wine he commented about our wines being a ‘young’ style. That got my attention! I decided to visit the wine farms and learn from the winemakers about their philosophy, their wines and what makes their wines different from others around them.” The management noticed this and suggested he go on to study wines and learn more about winemaking. He went on to become a wine ambassador in Franschhoek and has been part of The Royal Portfolio La Residence team for two years now. “Here I had the opportunity to study WSET Level 1, which I completed. Within the Royal Portfolio, there are a lot of opportunities, they keep motivating me to grow,” says Bradly.

Gauteng

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Oscar Court Moyo | Protea Hotel by Marriott Johannesburg Balalaika Sandton

“I’m a distinguished man in my late 50’s,” says Oscar. “I’ve entered into this competition, not to win, however I feel that I have a lot to offer the young generation still and would like for my children (whom I have promised them yet again to let me work in the industry just for a few more years) and have convinced the management team at the Protea Hotel by Marriott Balalaika Sandton to give me this opportunity.  I would like to end my career with a bang and feel that this would be that chance.” Oscar says that he started off his career in the restaurant and bar world as a young man, looking up in awe at the men and women who had such deep knowledge about whiskies and wines – he knew then that it was something he would like to learn. “Learning the varietals and the difference a grape makes a wine given the correct temperature or the right climate, or how weather affects the product, the wine was gold, it was gold! If you have the right wine served with the right food, you can hit the jackpot!”

Mduduzi Njenjese | De Hoek Country Hotel

Mdu for short is a young energetic hospitable person who loves this industry, he enjoys putting a smile on his guests faces through his style of service. After initially studying IT, Mdu soon realised his love and passion for hospitality. He started out as a kitchen porter working tirelessly to the position of a cook within the Magaliesburg area, first at Magalies Manor then at Valley Lodge & Spa. He made a swift move to the front of house area where he became a barman at Urban Tree. The next three years he spent as a waiter at Mount Grace African Pride, completing a Restaurant service course at the International Hotel School. Mdu has been employed at De Hoek for just over a year and has made the biggest difference in the team.

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Titus Mutuvira | Sandton Sun

When Titus Mutuvira first entered the hospitality industry back in 2012, he joined the Sandton Sun as a young and definitely inexperienced young man.  However, he knew what he wanted to do and had natural confidence that took him into the front line of hospitality. Today he is an integral part of the SAN Restaurant serving team. What was once a natural ability and part of his personality, has now become his recognisable approach with guests, whom he looks after with confidence and professionalism. Although he enjoys all aspects of being a wine steward, he takes particular pride in being able to assist guests with the food and wine pairing process, enjoying the whole challenge of finding just the right match from within the extensive Tsogo Sun wine list. “I just love service and my guests,” he says enthusiastically. “I believe that if there is no wine, there is no love. Wine is the philosophy of a great meal.”

Brian Nyamara | Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa

It goes without saying that a day in the life of a sommelier requires lots of liquid consumption: coffee and caffeine to stay awake, water to stay hydrated, and wine to stay educated. “When I was younger I would never have imagined my life the way it turned out working at one of the world’s leading hotels!” says Brian. “My career started working at Nino’s coffee shop where I worked for five years. I got my qualification as a Barista through and accreditation with Ciro Coffee Academy. After my journey at Nino’s I knew that life wanted more from me and I was ready to venture forward and learn more, experience new things and grow not only in a professional environment but personally as well.”

“I then got a rare opportunity at the Saxon Hotel where I started as a Barman but soon moved to our fine dining restaurant, Grei, where I joined the sommelier team led by Lloyd Jusa. At the age of 29, I feel like I have so much more to learn and give. My career is just getting started and I cannot wait for the opportunities that arise,” he says.

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Katlego Mokgosi | The Palace of the Lost City

“I was born and raised in a small village next to Sun City, which is called Ledig,” says Katlego. “After matriculating in 2014 from Bafokeng High School I started working at the Cascades Hotel where I was employed as a mini bar attendant for three months. I moved to Bocado Restaurant, which is also in the Cascades Hotel. This outlet helped me to gain and have a passion for the Hospitality industry. We worked as a team and I worked extra shifts so that I could gain more knowledge with regards to the whole F&B operation. I have also worked in banqueting and as a pastry chef. This also helped me to learn about what happens back of house.”

“I am currently working at The Palace Hotel, which is the flagship hotel of the Sun International Group and Sun City Resort, as Bartender at Tusk Bar and serve wine and cocktails. It has been great, but the most part that I enjoy is to present the best wines that we have at The Palace of the Lost City,” he says. “When I was appointed to the Tusk Bar I developed a real passion for service. Recommending a great wine to a guest is what I am best at. It has always been a great journey to me and working with wine is what I love most. I would like to see myself as Head Wine Steward.”

Parceville Africa | The Maslow Sun Time Square

Cape Town-born Parceville started in the hospitality industry in 2008. “I worked at a museum restaurant as a waiter, whereby I worked my way up as a Restaurant Supervisor for five years. I then made a move to African Pride Crystal Towers Hotel & Spa, now known as Cape Town Marriott Hotel Crystal Towers Hotel, in the capacity as Food & Beverage Administrator,” he says. “I got married in 2014 and moved to Worcester where I started my career at Sun International Golden Valley Casino as an F&B Floor Manager. In 2018 I moved to Pretoria and started working at the phenomenal Time Square Casino situated in Menlyn.”

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KwaZulu-Natal

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Sicelo Xaba | Beverly Hills Hotel

Sicelo was born in Dundee, Northern KZN, and is currently completing his Human Resources management course while working at the Beverly Hills.‘’I am delighted to learn about wine, I believe I will gain experience and knowledge during the course offered to me by entering the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge. This is an opportunity for me to grow and I’m taking it with both hands and I will always give of my best,’’ enthused Sicelo.

Sicelo presently works the evening shift of The Sugar Club, the signature restaurant of the Beverly Hills hotel in Umhlanga. He is a people person and team player with a strong service ethos – he is often seen checking up on people in the Lounge and Terrace. Sicelo just completed the Wine Professional course on Lobster Ink.

Anelisa Ramotholo | Durban International Convention Centre

Anelisa is currently employed as Functions Coordinator at the Durban International Convention Centre. She graduated from the Durban University of Technology with a Bachelor of Technology Degree in Hospitality Management in 2016 and is passionate about wine. “I would like to expand my knowledge and work experience in the process and value chain of the wine industry in the next few years,” says Anelisa. “This will help me to propel towards my vision of hosting and managing national and international events in the wine industry. My goal is to make this happen by the time I reach 33 years of age and take flight in the industry as a South African Ambassador in the international market.”

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Lethukuthula Ngubane | Protea Hotel by Marriott Durban Edward

Lethukuthula’s passion for wines and spirits of the world started when she worked as a barista at Mugg & Bean Westville Mall. “At the time it was more of coffees not much exposure to wines and spirits, but I tried learning about the few wines we had over the internet. The simple way of making them stole my heart, and with that I knew the direction I was heading.” When Lethukuthula moved to Protea Hotel by Marriott Durban Edward he received training in wines and spirits: “The training provided made me even hungrier to gain more knowledge about the beverages made of natural ingredients,” he says, adding that he’s decided to embark on the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge to learn more about the industry.

Ameera Khan | Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani

A career in wine and hospitality was probably the last thing Ameera Khan imagined while growing up in Durban and as an up and coming young South African female wine steward, Khan hopes to change perceptions and receptivity to wine among traditional Indian communities. “Drinking wine as a young Indian female was frowned upon. And something I would never have imagined developing an interest for. However, I defied the odds and followed my passion. I am slowly learning that wine is an art; from the minute that bottle is opened, to the glass that is used, to the way it’s poured and finally the sip. It is an overall beautiful experience,” said Khan.

Now through the mentorship by the hotel’s Food & Beverage managers and the Vigour & Verve restaurant, the aspirant wine enthusiast has developed an attuned wine palate which she describes as “a sense of personal accomplishment.” Khan joined the International Hotel School in June 2015 to pursue a career in Hospitality Management where she completed her studies two years later. She secured an internship at the Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani hotel, and later moved to join the banqueting team where she was responsible for the set-up of venues as well as guest service during events.Khan then moved on to gain experience as a waitress and was quickly promoted to a hostess at Vigour & Verve restaurant.

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