Tinashe Nyudoka

A Somm With A Dream…

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.

The White Blend
Breedekloof Chenin
And Cab/Cinsault blend

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.

Tinashe on the label

With the other members of the Zimbabwe team in the film Blind Ambition

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!

Blind Ambition – the film about Tinashe and his countrymen’s attempt to win the Blind Tasting World Championship is due to come out in the UK in the summer and should be well worth a watch. Tinashe’s Kumusha range of wines is available through Bibendum.

Rheingau

Meeting Weil’s new ultra-premium from the slopes of the Gräfenberg

The Rheingau is close to my heart. Frankfurt is where I was allowed to manage my very first wine list as a sommelier, and from there I was able to visit the prestige vineyards and producers based around the famous villages along the Rhine River.

Once you cross the Schiersteiner Brücke from the south and turn left, a route packed with history and tradition opens up in front of you.

From Eltville in the east to Rüdesheim in the west, this is one of the most famous 20km stretches in the German wine world: the home to such A-list vineyards as Schlossberg, Nussbrunnen, Gräfenberg, Berg Schlossberg and Höllenberg.

The ‘elbow bend’ in the Rhine – site of some of Germany’s most prestigious vineyards

The reason for this is simple. Most of the time, the Rhein flows from south to north. But here it briefly turns through 90 degrees to run east to west.  This means that the Rheingau’s vineyards have a full southern exposure and are protected by the hills of the Taunus mountain range to the north.

The Rhine River has a warming effect during the night but also maintains a constant temperature during the ripening phase.

Don’t forget, we are at 50 degrees north here. This is still a cool wine region and grapes sometimes struggle to ripen fully.

All About Riesling

The Rheingau is Riesling. Fact. There is some Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, and good Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) on the west-facing, slate soils of Assmanshausen when the river makes a turn back to the north.

But 80% of the Rheingau is planted to the White Queen.

Though some of the country’s best Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenausles come from here, the wines generally tend towards the dry style.  

Soils change constantly, from slate in Assmannshausen, to quartzite in Rüdesheim, and löss/clay soil in the centre of the region and on the top of the hills. The slopes are steep and can quickly climb to almost 350m above the river.

The Gräfenberg

Located above the village of Kiedrich the Gräfenberg is owned almost exclusively by Weingut Robert Weil, which has 9.7ha of its 10.5ha. Only two other producers take grapes from here.

The hallowed slopes of the Grafenberg – owned almost exclusively by Robert Weil

It is famous for wine of higher, sweeter qualities such as Beerenauslese, Trockenberenauslese and Eiswein. But what people don’t know is that it also produces some of the best dry Rieslings, from fresh crisp Gutswein, through the delicious Kiedricher up to Grand Cru (Großes Gewächs – usually known as GG) quality.

For GG, low yield, 40hl/ha is a standard, the use of large Stück (1200l) or Doppelstück (2400l), mostly old casks, is a given.

As the vines became older, the Riesling in some smaller parcels of the Grafenberg vineyard stood out, for giving wines with more complexity, flavour intensity and the character.

Home of Monte Vacano

One such ‘special’ parcel was the Gräfenberg-Lay in the north-west, very close to the Turmberg. The soil here is predominantly slate, called Phylliteschiefer, which is spread throughout the Gräfenberg but has a higher content in this parcel. The vines on this 0.5ha parcel are now 40-60 years old.

And this is the home of a special new launch from the Robert Weil winery: Monte Vacano.

Named after the founder’s wife (she was a descendant of the Vacano family in Lombardy) 100 years ago, it used to be made just for the family. After the 1922 vintage it was incorporated into the regular GG Gräfenberg.

But Wilhelm Weil decided to revisit his family’s traditions and bottle the 2018.

Wild-fermented, and matured for 24 months on its lees in large traditional Stück, the Monte Vacano comes 100% from the Lay parcel of the Gräfenberg. Production is tiny – there are only 1200 bottles (plus a few magnums and one double-magnum) – and prices are around the €130 mark.

On the 6th of March at the VDP Rheingau Reserve Auction, one 12l bottle 2018 was under the hammer for an incredible €18,000. The Magnum got auctioned off at 520€.

Wine Available in the UK from Bibendum. Price on request, tiny quantities available.

This new arrival is not cheap. But it is a genuinely exciting arrival on Germany’s fine wine scene – innovative and experimental. And I really hope that this will inspire other Rheingau producers to follow Wilhelm Weil and his team – to respect the region’s traditions while still trying to do something different.