|And so, way back in February, an email enquiring if I would like to come and teach ten of their staff the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2, elicited an immediate and enthusiastic reply and finally, last week, I left the sodden shores of SA for sunny Mauritius.
Mauritius is an interesting place, relying mainly on tourism and sugar cane for its income - the former far more than the latter. According to PR manager at the Four Seasons, Debbie Williams, their sales and occupancy has remained very stable throughout what passes for a winter in Mauritius (25°C whilst I was there), with most guests being in income brackets which enables them to ignore any paltry credit crunch that might be going on. Only three years old, the resort has already established itself as one of the most exclusive on the island and attracts high-fliers and big-spenders from around the world with one of the biggest up-sell opportunities being the large and interesting wine list.
According to Four Seasons sommelier, Thomas Moreno, his wine list is one of the most extensive, not just in Mauritius, but also in terms of other Four Seasons resorts around the world. His list includes the likes of Bollinger Vieilles Vignes, ten years of Chateau Margaux, Sassicaia, Ornellaia, and he and his team think nothing of customers racking up R100 000 wine bills in a single evening. This is clearly a list that most wineries would like to be involved with and the gratifying news for South African wineries, is that plenty of them are. As the closest wine-producing country to Mauritius, not only are most wine regions of SA well-represented, particularly amongst the entry-level wines, but also (and perhaps more importantly) by the glass.
Having spent the week prior to my visit judging wine lists for South Africa's Wine List of the Year, I was definitely in the zone for looking for good wines by the glass and, compared to some of the inexcusably poor efforts from SA which I judged, it was gratifying to see such an extensive list at Four Seasons. In particular, to see such a lot of wines and labels from SA amongst the choices - well done to Graham Beck, Moreson, De Wetshof, Haute Cabriere, Boschendal, Klein Constantia and Eikendal for getting themselves poured by the glass and recommended and talked about by the staff.
And after two days of full-on training on wines around the world, I hope that the staff have got plenty more ideas of things to talk about in future. Ten students from the resort's various restaurants and bars spent a concentrated and intensive time learning and then revising for their WSET Level 2 - as I write this, I am still holding thumbs for the results to come back from the UK. But hopefully the education doesn't stop there because, as Thomas says "It is in the Mauritian nature to learn - everyone here is hungry for new information, ideas, knowledge and qualifications."
From my side, I hope that means that I can return and teach Level 3 next year, and from a South African winery side, I hope this means that this small, but important, almost-local market doesn't get ignored in the rush to chase big export orders elsewhere. South Africa is still struggling to clamber out of the budget and value categories in many markets, and to have so many affluent wine-lovers from Europe, America and the Far East exposed to our top-quality wines is an opportunity that should be grasped with both hands. Go and visit - the weather's great, the people are lovely and the hospitality is amazing - tell them about your wines and give them the tools and the tales they need to sell. You never know what may come of it ...
Cathy was a guest of the Four Seasons Resort, Anahita whilst she taught WSET Level 2. For more information on the resort, go to www.fourseasons.com/mauritius and for more information on WSET courses in South Africa visit www.thewinecentre.co.za.