Unfiltered: Wayve Kolevsohn, Ellerman House

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Wayve Kolevsohn graduated from Cape Town Hotel School, before moving to London to start her career in the restaurant industry. There she worked at Michelin-starred Chez Bruce, before later returning to her motherland to take on the role of restaurant manager at The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français. Kolevsohn’s passion for the grape, however, led to her becoming head sommelier of The Test Kitchen. From there she moved to Asia in 2015, heading up the wine department as head sommelier of LVMH-owned luxury resort Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives. She is the first African female to be certified through the Court of Master Sommeliers. She also holds WSET qualifications, and is a board member of the the South African Sommelier Association. Currently, she holds the position of head sommelier at Cape Town’s Ellerman House Luxury Hotel & Villas.

How did you arrive at the position you are in today?

In 2009 I was working as the restaurant manager of one of the World’s Top 50 restaurants, The Tasting Room at le Quartier Francais in the Cape winelands. We didn’t employ a sommelier (the position of wine sommelier barely existed then) and I assumed the role during service. Eventually my love for wine took over. My journey has since taken me around the world and eventually back to my home town of Cape Town.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

There are a lot of things I love about my job: The rush of a busy dinner service, the interesting people I meet on the job, achieving my beverage cost targets and balancing my stock sheets.

What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?

That we get to drink wine on the job and attend lunches and dinners every day.

When I’m not busy with service, I’m often carrying boxes, packing wines and capturing invoices.

What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?

A cold glass of Champagne or Methode Cap Classique

What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?

A few years ago during an extremely busy Saturday lunch service, I slammed my finger in a drawer. Whilst trying to get to the back of house to sit down, I fainted in the middle of the restaurant. That was pretty embarrassing!

If you could give your younger self advice when starting out, what would it be?

The only person who loses out when you’re too scared to do something is yourself.

What bottle sparked your love of wine?

It was the 2006 Sadie Family Palladius, which I was introduced to by an Australian Sommelier. I was around 22 years old. I had never tasted a wine with so much depth and so many layers.

Which customer habit annoys you the most?

When guests order wine pairings with their meal, but then tell me that they only drink white or red wine.

Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?

With regards to hospitality mentors, David O’Connor, who was my general manager at Chez Bruce Restaurant in Wandsworth Common and now owns Medlar Restaurant in Chelsea is a front of house service inspiration for me. Australian-born David Clarke, ex head sommelier of Vue de Monde in Australia and the Harrods wine department, has brought a huge amount of experience and knowledge to the South African sommelier profession.

When it comes to food, I love uncomplicated, honest, real food. Chefs like Fergus Henderson and Yotam Ottolenghi inspire me.

What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?

Cheese and wine! There are so many different and interesting combinations that can be created.

Where would your fantasy vineyard be?

For personal pleasures, somewhere close to both a beach and a mountain and with a Mediterranean climate.

If you weren’t working in the restaurant industry, what would you be doing and why?

I would love to go into winemaking. The South African wine industry is made up of the most beautiful places and amazing people. If you’ve ever experienced the SA wine industry first hand in any form, then you will know exactly what I mean.

Which wine do you find it impossible to get along with?

I really struggle to enjoy wines have unnecessarily high tannins. Personally, I think oak is great in moderation, but that’s about as far as it goes for me.

Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?

For those who work or have worked in the luxury hotel industry, it’s no surprise to meet a lot of sport, film and fashion celebrities. Mine is actually none of those.

I was working as the head sommelier of Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives at the time. We had a regular guest who would join us with his family every year over the festive season. He loved fine wine, and the more rare, the better. I would visit his villa daily and we would discuss the wines for him each evening.

For his 2017 New Years Eve dinner we created a vertical Château Cheval Blanc menu that included the 1947, 1966, 1985, 2000, 2005 and 2009. He offered me a glass of each wine. We became good friends.

What’s on your wine bucket list?

I’ll hopefully soon taste a wine that I have made on my own, from harvest up to bottling.

Finally, what wine and paired plate would you pick from your list and why?

Our menu changes quite regularly, which makes is a wonderful challenge.

Currently, my favourite combination is a dish of grilled artichokes, roast aubergine, ash goat’s cheese, basil oil, and dehydrated plum tomato.

It’s paired with the Longridge ‘Ou Steen’ Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch. A voluptuous Vouvray-inspired Chenin with a little touch of sweetness, but balanced with great acidity. Both are the epitome of intense and concentrated flavours.

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