When Marble restaurant first opened its doors six years ago, it had just one sommelier at the helm – today there’s a team of six young sommeliers headed up by Wikus Human, who believes that by grooming these youngsters and growing local talent, the local sommelier culture in SA will be preserved.
Wikus first cut his teeth in the wine service industry in smaller fine-dining establishments, and he marks two key moments in his career as pivotal – the first was joining the Marble team in 2016, and the second was being named as the 2017 Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier.
“When I joined the Marble team, I had been working in smaller restaurants with set menus and a certain rigidity when it came to which wine you paired with which dish,” Wikus explains. “At Marble and Saint everything changed – I had to interact with so many more styles and types of wine, and we weren’t pairing wine to a specific dish, but rather to a table of dishes.”
Six years later, Wikus has had exposure to some of the rarest wines in the world and has free rein to make decisions with the wine list and cellar at both Marble and Saint – and he’s exposing that experience to other young somms.
Wikus manages the team at both Saint: George Chikanda, Katlego Mathobela, and Stephanie Cartwright; and Marble: Thembani Mpande and David (Peace) Ncube. David is the youngest member of the team and is working towards his first certification, whereas all the other team members have their WSET 1, 2, or 3; or certifications from the Cape Wine Academy.
In selecting the team, it was a given for each individual to have basic certification and training, theory, and service knowledge. But Wikus believes that the sommelier’s role at Marble and Saint is not just about always knowing exactly what’s in the wine cellar, but also to connect to customers and tell the story of the wines. The most important part of this is to understand what the guests enjoy drinking and then try and match it to their meal.
“That ability to communicate and tell a story about a wine, can’t be taught,” Wikus says. “Not every customer will understand the technical details of a wine, but they will connect to a story about the farm, or a vintage or the winemaker.”
Behind the scenes, and beyond the stories, Wikus works with the sommeliers to get them ready for exams and their next certifications. “After service, I often sit and make flashcards for the team, teaching them which exams require one-word answers, and which require more detail. Right now, I’m focusing on basic training, but also wines by country.”
Wikus has been instrumental in establishing the wine culture at both Marble and Saint, and in growing the team. “It’s been an incredible honour and a journey to open so many people’s eyes to wines they may never have tried and create experiences for them. With this team, we can keep doing this for many years to come.”