Discovering South Africa’s Future Stars


From the majestic plains of the South African landscape to the enchanting diversity of life, the “Rainbow Nation” lives up to its name and offers a rich selection of impressive wines. With wine first being produced in South Africa in 1659, glorious varieties have continued to flow out of the country. Welcome to a new Vinelives contributor, Neil Tabraham, of – a group of wine experts based in Bedfordshire. They offer wine courses, tastings and events.  Neil has been on an adventure….


When I decided to leave the shires of England for an adventure in South Africa, I really didn’t know where it would take me. Having visited Cape Town, the “Mother City” on many occasions over the last twenty or so years, I knew plenty of things it would be. Visiting some of the most exciting winemakers in the world right now would certainly be on the cards. As would exploring the rugged coastline and mountains that define the Western Cape. But what happened has taken, even me by surprise.

Whilst sitting under the lemon tree that shades my garden from the baking African sun, I was scrolling through a wine website when I came across an advert asking for Wine Educators and Facilitators to train the next generation of sommeliers from underprivileged backgrounds. Being the driving force behind Wine Geeks Wine School in the UK, it immediately struck me how rewarding it could be to give back the knowledge I had acquired to those less fortunate.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in an office in front of Jean Vincent Ridon, a crazy, energetic French man and world class sommelier, who competes at the highest level to become the world’s best. It wasn’t long before we were engrossed in the world of wine and dissecting restaurant service in South Africa. Before I knew what was happening I was in and scheduled to teach the first group in Robertson, a hot and arid wine region about two hours from the city that’s kept cool and irrigated by the Breede River. It was forty-five degrees centigrade on my first day!     

It wasn’t the first time that I had stood up in front of 30 complete strangers to talk about my passion, but this was different. In front of me were a bunch of kids hoping to get a leg-up by making something of themselves and there was this balding, bearded Englishman looking somewhat unsure about how he had even got there. Considering there are eleven official languages in South Africa, I was fairly certain that English probably wasn’t their chosen dialect; my future as a wine educator here didn’t look good.

It wasn’t long before I realised they were not only understanding me, but were genuinely interested in what I had to say. When they appreciated I wasn’t completely mad they even began to get excited with the teaching and revealed their ambition and determination to become successful. Over the coming weeks I was there, we went to places they had never dreamed of, and not just metaphorically. I even organised a trip to Robertson Winery where they had a full tour of the facility in the middle of harvest. When exam time came, it was like we had known each other for a lifetime and they all passed their Level 1 South African Wine Certificate with flying colours.

After eventually arriving back in Cape Town I realised two things: that the experience was even more rewarding than I had imagined, and that I had been privileged to have been a part of something so special.

Wine isn’t just about superstar winemakers, it’s also the people you meet along the way. So, if you’re ever in Cape Town, I really hope you get served a glass of wine by one of these future stars of South Africa.


Fascinating, and we hope to bring you more from Neil again soon.