One of South Africa’s most respected wine sommeliers Tinashe Nyamudoka was a guest on Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube’s online show In Conversation with Trevor.
Nyamudoka (TN), a Zimbabwean-born entrepreneur, shared with Ncube (TVN) how he built his brand Kumusha wine and how he found himself in the profession.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TVN: Tinashe Nyamudoka, welcome to In Conversation with Trevor. You and I have been meaning to do this for a while and I am delighted to have you on the show.
TN: Thank you, Trevor. It is nice to be here and now I can have a one-on-one talk, a proper one with you.
TVN: Yes indeed. Tinashe, you have an absolutely amazing and inspirational story and I have been following your story since about three to five years ago and I am impressed by the things that you have been able to achieve, the awards and recognition that you have been able to get from the industry at a very tender age of 35.
Now let us talk about this Tinashe, Kumusha wine. It actually shows the kind of person that you are, adventurous, creative. What pushed you to create this wine?
TN: Remember I told you I was in Durban and the friends I was playing with were at least starting their own companies and the guys we were working with realised that we could not go back home anytime soon, but we could create our own movement.
So I was in the wine industry, but I needed something like a business.
There are about three million Zimbabweans in South Africa.
I was checking on the Facebook page, there were a lot of Zimbabweans in Cape Town around 30 000 professionals in South Africa.
In my mind I thought an idea that if I could teach all these Zimbabweans about wine, I could sell.
So I started a group called Wine263 on Facebook and most of the time I realised I was just speaking to myself and no one understood where I was standing.
I just wanted to be the voice of the Zimbabweans and create a platform where it was about Zimbabweans.
TVN: Let us talk about the wine. You started tweeting about the idea and posting on Facebook, and finally you came out with that idea of the Kumusha wine, maybe one of the first celebrated wines made by a Zimbabwean sommelier.
Can I call you a wine maker? Are you a wine maker? Are you qualified to be called a wine maker?
TN: Not at all
TVN: Talk to us about the Kumusha wine and how you came about with the idea, why you started it.
TN: So in the end, I realised that wine is a culture. After travelling to Italy, Spain and France, the theme is the same.
They do not take wine as an alcohol you drink just to get drunk.
Wine is connected to their places like in France, Opodo is built around wine, in Germany, Germany Moses is built around wine and certain foods define wine in different areas.
It is a cultural expression in a way.
When we smell wine, especially this one, you must smell gooseberries, apricots.
I had challenges picking up those fruits.
I grew up with matamba, maroro, hute in the rural areas and somehow I would pick that stuff up, but at that point I did not know if it was safe to say I am smelling maroro in my wine.
But at some point, when I was reading a book called Liquid Memory, by Jonathan Nossiter — a former sommelier who ended up as a wine writer and movie writer— in one chapter he said wine is a cultural expression and it has origins.
So when we say wine origins, we mean whether wine is being made, the environment, the climate is what defines wine.
So when I am selling the wine, if I am a professional, it takes me to where it is being grown.
I can smell the value, the soil, the texture and you can taste a wine and know that it comes from a cool climate.
The problem with me was that I found it difficult to go to a place that I have never been through wine.
So now when I smell this wine, I am reminded of the rural areas, my grandparents, the wild fruits.
TVN: How has the Kumusha wine brand performed?
TN: The brand has performed well, but it has come with its own challenges.
TVN: Talk to me about the challenges.
TN: The biggest challenge has been getting people to really appreciate and feel comfortable drinking the wine.
They will be more or less saying that this wine was made by a Zimbabwean; it should be some type of a joke or something.
The challenge has been trying to be authentic enough.
I was not worried about the wine quality, but was worried about the perception where people do not drink it because it is made by a Zimbabwean.
The other difficult part was the distribution.
You will be sitting with this case of wine, but there is someone who happens to find about it in America, how you would get that person that bottle of wine?
Even for it to get to where you are now, it was not easy.
TVN: We are not going to tell the story of how we got them but at least we got them.
TN: So from a traditional point of view the big wineries have a big network of distribution.
TVN: So what you are saying to me, Tinashe, is that you are facing marketing challenges and distribution problems, brand recognition and brand acceptance by the market. Are you overcoming those?
TN: Yes, slowly but surely. With careful marketing and the wine being reviewed and tasted, and the people genuinely love it.
It has always been by word of mouth and that is why I say that the word of mouth is my oxygen because I have not paid brand advertisement.
It has just been the word of mouth and people appreciating and listening to the story of the brand and sharing and recommending it to others.
That is how I have won.
For the marketing side it has been getting quite accepted, which is very good, but I think that the challenge now is just distribution and making people get it easily.
It has been very fulfilling and touching where a Zimbabwean in America or Canada would say that we saw your wine and how can we get it?
It has been accepted in that way and it has been that the quality is as good as you can get.
TVN: You know you have not paid anything to be on this show nor did you pay for me to endorse this wine, but I got a batch in 2019 and I totally enjoyed it. I fully recommend this Kumusha wine, it is really good.
TN: You know what, Trevor, because I am a regular wine judge in South Africa, so I judge for all the top wine competitions in South Africa and I am also an international judge, so I judge in German.
So recently, before the Covid-19 struck in February, I was judging as a Zimbabwean judge in Germany.
TVN: Were you the only black person there Tinashe?
TN: Yes, close to 260 judges from all over the world. So to explain a bit, I actually grow and make the wine. I have a wine maker for me.
What I am good at is blending and the tasting. So it answers your question. I am not a wine maker at all, I am a good blender.
From judging, I know that a wine is well-balanced and well-blended.
TVN: Talk to me about the wine cork. I am somehow biased that if a wine does not have a natural wine cork, it puts me off.
I noticed that for your whites and reds, you do not have a screw cap, why did you choose that?
TN: One of the things is perception. There are a lot of people who perceive that once you put a screw top on it it’s bad wine, but it is a myth that was debunked a long time ago. You know, people tend to take wines that do not have the screw cap.
TVN: For me that has not been debunked. I am still one of those people who go into a place to buy wine and if there is a screw top, I would skip and get to the one that does not have the screw cap.
TN: Like I said, wine is not just an average drink, but it is an experience.
I enjoy that ceremony of cutting the foil, putting my cork screw and opening it. It is part of enjoying the ceremony.
TVN: You have a dream of making this brand a huge brand on the continent, talk to me about that.
TN: With the way things are going and considering the fact that Africa, we have always been looking outwards and never inside and the other thing is that what the taste kitchen has taught me is that I got to know more about food after wine.
I do not think that much attention is given to the way of cooking like our mothers and grandmothers used to do.
It is sad that most of the chefs no longer consider continuing that tradition whereas the European guys are starting to cook with fire, the stuff that we should have been doing.
For me growing up, it was the same sadza and meat and vegetables.
TVN: Are you going to move us in starting to appreciate pairing our food with our wines?
TN: Yes, I think you cannot have a conversation of wine without the food part of it. It is part of the culture.
Everywhere you go food and wine have to be taken at the same time.
If you really appreciate wine you have to have food and wine.
People do not understand food that much especially working in a restaurant, which is much more European and I like the fact that young black men are now starting to get into the kitchen and being creative and I think most of the time they are trying to make the plate look good.
What Luke has taught me is that Tinashe when I cook I am thinking about when I was growing up and what I used to eat and what my mother used to make.
At the end of the day the food is fulfilling. You know when you have been missing a plate of sadza, and you finally have that sadza, that satisfaction is great.
It is one of the ideas that I am going to incorporate accompanied by the Kumusha wine.
We need to go back into time, and try to incorporate how our grandmothers used to cook.
I think that is where my passion is moving to slowly.