World champion sommelier praises South African wines

CAPE TOWN, 23 SEPTEMBER: American hotelier and wine maker Chris Bates – who took the world championship in the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’ 6th Concours International des Jeunes Sommeliers at the Mount Nelson on Friday – today praised the South African wine industry for the quality of its products, and for the speed with which it has evolved.
Twelve wine professionals – each representing one of the world’s top wine loving countries – faced a formidable panel of experts during the 8-hour-long Concours. Their tasks included blind tastings; demonstrations of practical skills in red wine decanting, glass service, champagne service, food and wine pairing; the identification of spirits by nose alone; and two theoretical skills tests - the correction of a faulty wine list, and a one-hour written exam about the wines and wine regions of the world. 

This annual competition is designed to improve knowledge and skills among wine professionals in the 21- to 35-year-old age group. Contestants qualify to represent their countries through winning a series of regional and national competitions. 

Mr. Bates said that the judging panel - the CEO of the European Court of Master Sommeliers, Brian Julyan, the Court’s education director, Bryan Dawes, master sommelier Frank Kämmer, and Neil Grant, the chairperson of the Sommeliers Association of South Africa – “Put us through a nice round of tasks on the day. 

“The most challenging part was controlling your own nose and not letting the pressure and excitement of it all get to you.” 

He said that his work provides the training he needs for this kind of competition Concours. 

“As sommeliers, we work at this daily in our careers; we spend a lot of time tasting and in development; we’re involved in organisations like the Chaîne; and we take part in competitions quite regularly. 

 “People might not realise it, but we spend a lot more time correcting wine lists than we might like to. But it’s important because the wine list is our sales tool - so we do a lot of reading about wine, and we study it all the time, and visit the producers as often as we can.” 

Asked about his experience of South Africa, he said that this is his third visit to the country. 

“It’s been delightful,” he said. “I came here in 2000, and again about two years ago, and it’s been interesting to track the development of your wines, the styles, and where the industry in South Africa is going. 

 “The evolution has been incredibly fast. 

 “You have a very technologically advanced wine culture, and the enthusiasm for good wine is catching up to the enthusiasm for well-made wine – wine that’s a little less technically perfect. “There’s a lot of excitement here for the not-so-standard things in the wine world. “

There’s also been a lot of foreign investment, so the technical and physical development of the wineries, the wine lands, and the restaurants has been remarkable.” 

Mr. Bates is the general manager and executive chef at the Hotel Fauchère in Milford, Pennsylvania, and makes his own rieslings, pinot noirs, cabernet francs, and syrahs under the Element Winery label in the Finger Lakes region of New York. 

He began cooking at his mother’s side, began working in restaurants at 14 years of age, and later studied at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. He had passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ introductory exams and competed in the Best Sommelier in America Competition by the time he was 21 years old. 

He spent time in Italy and Germany before returning home, where he worked in various highly rated hotels before taking up his present post at the Hotel Fauchère. 

Asked to compare his own wines with any he’s found in South Africa so that readers could try to understand his style, he said, “I’m not sure you can compare. 

 “We have to deal with a very different style and climate. 

 “I tend to like strange wines, though – wines that are a little less standardised, more technically improper. So maybe I’d go with Adie Badenhorst’s wines (A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines, www.aabadenhorst.com), which are funkier, earthier, and less fruit-forward.” 

He said that being a world champion sommelier won’t change things for him in his day-to-day work. “But I hope it will encourage a few more members of the Chaîne to visit us and check out our restaurant and property. 

“And hopefully it will also catch peoples’ attention, and make them a little more excited about what we do.” 
Arnaud Bardary (UK); Christopher Bates (USA); Yuki Hirose (Australia); Sabine Drachmann Sunne; Jan M

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