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A South African in London

1 Oct 2009 by Jancis Robinson

1 Oct - We have just received the following update to the article below, first published a couple of years ago:

Green & Blue are delighted to announce that Thandisiwe (Tyson) Meyi, the inaugural winner of the Green & Blue Scholarship, will shortly be returning to London on a promotional trip for Spier Wines, the company he is now working for in South Africa.

Tyson's rapid progress from shop assistant to 'brand ambassador' for a top South African wine company is testament to his hard work in London and to the extensive training he received at Green & Blue. We are incredibly pleased for him.

Green & Blue continue to work on getting our next scholarship winner to London. A change in the visa laws, designed to protect UK jobs at a time of rising unemployment, is proving very challenging. However, we are determined to continue our scholarship programme because it is such an integral part of our ethical company philosophy and a concerted effort is being made to resolve the bureaucratic issues as soon as possible. We look forward to welcoming Unathia Stimele in the not too distant future.

For further information or it you would like to arrange interviews with Tyson while he is in London, please contact Kate Thal on kate.thal@greenandbluewines.com or 07740 705079.

One of the big problems facing South African wine (apart from vine viruses and antipathetic wine writers) is engendering wine culture and wine education in the previously disadvantaged majority of the population. The black economic empowerment enterprises such as Thandi and Ses'kifile all represent attempts to correct the imbalance on South African wine farms, but the country still suffers a serious lack of expertise in selling and serving wine.

Kate Thal, the South African-born owner of the South London wine bar and wine merchant Green & Blue, has instituted a scheme designed to help improve this situation. Thandisizwe Meyi, pictured here, is the winner of the inaugural Green & Blue sommelier scholarship who finally reached London last week from his home in a South African township, after protracted visa negotiations.

The idea is that he will spend a year learning about the world of fine wines. The scholarship comprises a return air ticket, master classes with top wine makers from around the world, Green & Blue's 13 week 'School of Wine' course, at least two trips to Europe's wine regions, tutored access to international trade tastings and a year's paid work at Green & Blue.

"We think that he is quite a star and the hope is that he will go on to have a very glittering wine career in South Africa," she says. "We also hope very much that he will be the first of many such stars, all from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, that we are able to bring over - eventually more than one a year when we have grown a bit bigger."

Thandisizwe, or 'Tyson' to his friends, is originally from the Eastern Cape and moved to Cape Town when he was 21. His first permanent job was stacking shelves at the Spier wine farm where his tasting talent was noticed and nurtured.In the blind tasting that was part of Green & Blue's scholarship selection process, Thandisizwe was the only one of the 12 candidates who correctly identified the type of grapes used in a French wine blend.

Before travelling to the northern hemisphere he is quoted as saying, "'I know I have to work hard to achieve my goal, so I will do my best to learn everything I am supposed to learn. I am so excited about going to London because there are few chances to go there, especially for people like me."

According to Kate Thal, "cultivating homegrown talent is the essence of this project by instilling a passion for and knowledge of the world's wines in young, previously disadvantaged South Africans. The intention being that owners and managers of South African restaurants, tasting rooms and wine farms draw on these talents, skills and qualifications in the future." She has persuaded both Spier and the Western Cape's Department of Economic Development and Tourism to support this scheme.

Her plan is that Thandisizwe will be making monthly video diaries for www.greenandbluewines.com that will monitor his progress. Sounds as though this process could have made a proper reality tv show worth watching for once.

See Tyson's first video diary here.

Tags:  South Africa
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