Tinashe Nyamudoka left Zimbabwe in 2008 with one change of clothes and zero knowledge of wine. Since then he’s worked at the best restaurant in Africa, represented his homeland in the World Wine Tasting Championships, appeared on the silver screen, and – every sommelier’s dream – created his own range of wines.
The Sommelier Collective caught up with him at the Bibendum tasting in London.
Are you still a sommelier, Tinashe?
I’m no longer on the floor. But I’m helping out my old boss soon. He’s opening a new venue in Johannesburg, and he called me and said ‘I know you’re not doing anything in the evenings…’ He was convincing. I’ll do it for a few months as a favour then stop.
So how long were you a sommelier for?
I did four years at the bottom level, then had seven years at my peak – all in South Africa. I’d love to have been a sommelier in London. The last four years I worked as a somm I was already working on the Kumusha wines.
How did you make the step from ‘wanting’ to make wine to actually making it, when you have no wealthy backer, no vineyards and no winery?
So I’m not a fully fledged winemaker. I work closely with Attie Louw from Opstal to help me create my wines. I make decisions on the wine style, on the vessels to use, length of maturation and making the final blends. I used my networking and close relationships to make the step.
Tell us about the name
Kumusha means ‘origin’ or ‘homeland’. The label shows a picture of me looking out towards the mountainous area of my grandfather’s home. There’s a Protea flower – the flower of South Africa – and a Flame Lily, which is the symbol of Zimbabwe.
Which is the harder part – getting everything in place to be able to make the wine, or selling it?
Getting the wine in bottle is the easy part but selling is a challenge – especially getting distribution.
Did the publicity for Blind Ambition help get you noticed?
Not really. The movie hasn’t made much impact yet. I’m big on social networks and that’s how I have grown my brand and the wines.
How has your somm background influenced the style of the wines you make?
My range includes top tier wines that are made with food in mind. I use my experience of food & wine pairing. Mid-tier style wines is more experimental: unusual blends and region specific. The lifestyle range is for everyday drinking. Nice quality wines that don’t dent the pocket. I was getting tired of big old wines. I wanted something that you could have a second bottle of without knowing it.
You’ve made the point before that in such a white industry you feel very much like an outsider. Is that changing do you think?
It’s slowly changing as the industry opens up. My mission is to use Kumusha Wines to open up more opportunities.
Which was the hardest thing you’ve ever done: leaving Zim in the first place, competing in the Wine Blind Tasting Championships or launching your own label?
Leaving home was the hardest. It was the first time l ever left the country – venturing into the unknown.
Do you see yourself now as a sommelier or a winemaker?
I see myself as both – and more!