Q&A With Tawanda Marume; Sommelier Turned Entrepreneur

We’ve always been acquainted with Tawanda and exchanged messages here and there, in other words, we didn’t know him on a personal level. Then one day, we received a message on Facebook, surprisingly,  it is Tawanda. He was inviting us to his birthday braai as he was celebrating it at his family home in Cape Town.  “I am in CT on Sunday for my birthday and doing a braai, I will have some of the wines on my portfolio to try so if you’re in the area, please make a turn if you can” We immediately took delight in that. Of course, who wouldn’t? We were excited to be seeing him that weekend, together with other notable people in the industry. We had a spectacular time at the braai, and as always, at such events, people networked. When we left the braai, we left thinking in our minds” We need to get know this better.” And so, here we are, getting to know Tawanda better and we look forward to a fruitful working relationship in the future.

Tell us about yourself?
My name is Tawanda, founder of Expression Wines Africa. I am an enthusiastic individual driven by a goal to achieve and be counted in life. I grew up in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe where I did my A’ Level and undergraduate program which I did not complete. I worked at Intermarket Life Assurance company and Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe before moving to South Africa in 2009. I initially came to write my UNISA BCompt exam but then decided to stay after finishing the exams. I stayed with my sister in Stellenbosch a bit before moving into Cape Town CBD where I started working at Ocean Basket Waterfront. I have always had the sense that one should follow their dreams in order to be happy, and so I was never the one to follow what people consider the norm.

Photo Credit: Tawanda Marume

How did your career as a sommelier begin, what drew you to that career path, what inspires you?
I landed a job at Wine Concepts on Kloof as an assistant manager. Under the mentorship of Sue Proudfoot, my wine knowledge grew exponentially and so did my passion. During the start of the second year at Wine Concepts, I felt something was missing – I could get customers asking a wine to pair with a certain dish which I would not be familiar with. It happened many times and it prompted me to want to learn about food and wine pairing. I was fortunate enough to get a job at La Colombe working 3 times a week. Working under Jennifer Hugé must be one of the highlights in my career. She is passionate about the service industry and has a wealth of knowledge. That is where my career as a sommelier started. The fact that the industry is ever changing is one of the things that draw me to be where I am. I am inspired by people who have made a difference in the service industry in South Africa, people who are passionate about the growth of the industry and people – people who are selfless and always aim to bring the best in others.

Where have you worked as a somm?
During my career, I worked at several places sometimes at the same time. There was a time I think in 2013 that I worked 4 jobs, managed to squeeze all of them in a week. I have worked at La Colombe, Belthazar, Bistro Bizerca, Singita, Rust en Vrede, Café del Sol and recently Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient.

How did Expression Wines Africa come about, how has been the transition?
The reason I got into the wine industry was to send wines back to Zimbabwe. My interest started when while working at Intermarket when  I was tasked to procure wine for a Christmas party. After following the leads I had been given, I realized there were not many wine options in Zimbabwe. When I started studying through the Cape Wine Academy, I had that in mind and started writing different models and concepts. The name was founded in 2012 but only came into existence in 2018. It has been a tough road to transition but when you have a goal, you focus on what you want to achieve no matter the obstacles. Many times, the thought of going back to work clouded my mind but I encouraged myself to be persistent.

What does Expression Wines Africa do?
We are marketing and brand ambassadors of a portfolio of wine farms. We do sales, marketing, and activation of the wines in Gauteng. Our service also includes service training for waiters and restaurant management; wine tasting for clubs and corporates; restaurant and private cellar management; curating wines for weddings, corporate events or any other function drinks are served; wine lists development and management.

Where do you see Express Wines Africa in 5 years?
We are working towards setting up our own distribution. In 5 years, we want to see EWA as the go-to company for wine list development; waiter training and wine procurement for any event. We will have our own warehouse and distribution to reduce the cost our clients are currently incurring. We not only want to get our brands on wine lists and store shelves – we want to get our wines into the hearts of consumers.

What do you love most about what you do?
The thought that all the effort I am putting is going towards realizing my dream and building my own legacy, not someone else’s.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned
It is never easy to be an entrepreneur, but the fruits are rewarding. When you own your own time, the possibilities are endless.

What challenges do you face in the industry?
Gauteng is a market that is driven by relationships in the hospitality industry. When people know you and develop a relationship with you, they will trust you and your product. However, even with that, competing with bigger brands with bigger marketing budgets is a challenge. From a business person point of view, what they offer compared to what we offer makes more business sense even though one will be relinquishing their power to someone else. The other challenge is getting to the person who makes the buying decision. Oftentimes you taste or leave samples with individuals who will have no say in what goes on and off the wine list. Gauteng is so vast getting to everyone can be a challenge, but our team is growing.

Any message of inspiration do you have for aspiring somms & entrepreneurs?
Being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest decision ones can make BUT when you own your time, the possibilities are endless. When you can travel when you want, have meetings when you want, hustle when you want – you will soon find how liberating it is. They say if you don’t follow your dreams, you will spend your life helping others realizing their dreams and building their castles. It is not a question of when (you do something), it’s a question of what (you are doing and will do). It is never too late for anything. For those wanting to be sommeliers, the industry is about passion – passion for people, food and service. Sometimes people get caught up thinking they will have the limelight when they become sommeliers, it is not about you, it is about the guests, it is about creating an experience for your guests, something that they will take to heart and remember for the rest of their lives. Always listen attentively to your guests’ comments and remarks (they are nuggets of wisdom), they will almost always drop a hint of what their expectations are and it’s up to you to meet and/or exceed them.

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