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World Cup wines blur South African colour line

world Updated: Jun 05, 2010 09:50 IST

Loin of springbok with a spirited shiraz or full-bodied cabernet sauvignon? Or a silky merlot with confit duck served with foie gras and figs?

The art of pairing South African wines to food has received a World Cup shot in the arm with a project that aims to train 2,010 black wine stewards in a legacy nod to Africa's first football showcase, which begins June 11.

The project to improve non-white waiters' wine skills is funded through sales of a new premium red blend named "Fundi" (learner in Zulu), created by the wine industry in 2008 as its contribution to the tournament.

"We set ourselves an ambitious objective to train 2,010 waiters by 2010. The wine was developed to then generate funding to train these waiters," said Andre Morgenthal of Wines of South Africa.

The initiative has trained more than 1,000 people so far, most from the Cape winelands -- a top tourist destination on Cape Town's scenic doorstep with vineyards dating to the 17th century.

"At the beginning, it was quite difficult to recommend wines. We used to call the manager," said Osmelin Schroeder, 30, a waitress at the award-winning Terroir restaurant on the Kleine Zalze estate in Stellenbosch.

"You didn't feel confident -- because you didn't know what it tasted like."

The area is also home to some of South Africa's top restaurants but has remained overwhelmingly in white hands 16 years after apartheid, with black and mixed-race South Africans still marginalised as hired workers who rarely enjoy the top end fruits of their labours.

"We'd like to give people opportunities that never had opportunities -- to be trained, to be exposed to this," Morgenthal told AFP.

"The reality is that there's a huge percentage of non-white people in the industry, so it makes sense to train people of colour as well. That was actually our main aim from the beginning, to focus on people of colour."

'We built up confidence'

The wine, which comes with a beaded neck tag and was chosen blind from five wineries, retails for at least 150 rands (20 dollars, 16 euros) and all profits go to training.

The project needed to sell 17,500 cases of six bottles -- 0.005 percent of South Africa's total wine sales -- to sponsor its target but has also attracted funding from local government.

Russell Dunkley, of Let's Sell Lobster which is doing Fundi's training, said waiters were initially nervous of wines.

"Their biggest fear was a guest asking them to recommend a bottle. Through the course, we built up that confidence."
Restaurants are also happy with the result.

"There's been a demonstrable benefit," said Ross Sleet, spokesman for Terroir restaurant. "The staff have become a lot more confident about selling wine.

"It's a practical message. We're training people to enhance the consumer experience at the World Cup. And for us as the wine industry, it's us making sure there is a positive impact on wine sales."

While Fundi is not an official FIFA product, it has not run foul of the body's draconian copyright rules.

"We cleared this with FIFA. They said cool, we can't endorse it but carry on," said Morgenthal, saying there had been a good international response to the wine.

With football fans associated with brisk beer sales, the industry hopes the project will boost wine tourism and estimates that up to 1,300 waiters will have been trained by the June 11 kick-off.

"All we can do is be prepared and ready, and part of it is to have people well-trained at the front of house," said Morgenthal.

"The beauty of this project is we're not going to stop when the last whistle blows. We'll carry on until we've trained our 2,010 people and we have to sell the wine as well."