This is the last of four articles about some of the 47 applicants for this year's Golden Vines Diversity Awards, designed to increase diversity and inclusion in the wine, spirits and hospitality businesses as a tribute to the memory of the late Gérard Basset. We have already published profiles of applicants based in the UK, the rest of Europe and North America. The applicants below are based in the rest of the world.
The story of Denzel Swarts, pictured above, is truly inspiring and we hope he will keep at his studies and continue to apply for further help from the Gérard Basset Foundation towards them.
He is a third-generation South African farmworker, the first on the Simonsig estate in Stellenbosch to be promoted to a managerial position, in 2014, and six years later became the first member of his family to graduate from university. He is currently wine advisor, tasting room and wine club manager and brand ambassador for Simonsig and, as a judge of this year’s awards, I see I described his application as ‘supremely literate’.
But Denzel is obviously extremely thoughtful and concerned not just with his own career path but that of his fellow farmworkers. He wrote in his application that his ‘childhood experiences of growing up on a farm during the challenging days of South African history’ drove him to be ‘analytical about post-apartheid development goals’. Due to a lack of funding, he was unable to enter agricultural school, and so instead in 2005 left the wine industry to pursue a career in social development, working for NGOs with a focus on programmes aimed at the rural youth, hoping to make them ‘active citizens of change and better leaders of communities’. In 2011, funding to the NGO Denzel worked with was reallocated and following this he decided to return to a career in wine.
Since then, he has used the opportunities afford to him to help and guide other farmworkers who, like him, wish to progress in their careers in the wine industry, becoming wine advisors and aiding disadvantaged students in gaining access to wine roles on farms. Committed to helping others all through his life, Denzel has founded the SOS (Son of the Soil) Foundation, which aims to ‘equip young people to become active citizens and authentic leaders’.
We wish him every success and this year awarded him a Wine Scholar Guild scholarship for him to continue his studies.
Sin Hang Tse, pictured above, was just 22 when he first applied for a Golden Vines scholarship from his home in Hong Kong and clearly does not lack determination. As with Denzel Swarts, we awarded him a Wine Scholar Guild scholarship this year, hoping – indeed expecting – that he will progress up the ladder of wine education very rapidly.
He started out studying hospitality but was so intrigued by the wine modules in his course that he enrolled in the WSET courses, gaining his Diploma with Merit and becoming one of the youngest graduates in Hong Kong. His youth always set him apart during his wine classes apparently, with many of his peers commenting to him ‘wow, so young!’. In his application he said this has made him determined to ‘change the stereotype that wine is a mature audience’s product’.
Despite his relatively recent entry into the wine world, Sin Hang Tse has already notched up a wealth of experience, working as a sommelier, in wine retail and in winemaking. Indeed, his winemaking internship at Ch La Conseillante was remarkable, not only for the experience which it gave him, but also because he was the first Asian intern to work at the Pomerol wine estate. When he applied for a Golden Vines award earlier this year he was already working as a wine buyer at the respected HK wine merchants Ginsberg + Chan. He is determined to continue his journey in wine, with the eventual aim of becoming an MW.
Ibrahim Kemer, pictured above, is of Kurdish heritage and was brought up in rural eastern Türkiye. His introduction to the worlds of wine and hospitality came at a young age when he started working as a waiter in local restaurants to support his studies, learning in the process the rules of service and hospitality. He was mentored by one of Türkiye’s first professional sommeliers, Süleyman Şen, whose support enabled Ibrahim to become a professional sommelier and go on to win the Best Young Sommelier in Turkey Award in 2014. He has worked with Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana in Modena.
He is now a brand ambassador for LVMH in Türkiye, which has allowed him to take on the role of trainer and educator in the wine sector, which he says he finds ‘both formative and stimulating’, even if he misses the restaurant floor. In his own words: ‘it is always difficult for a sommelier to move away from restaurant life’. Ibrahim aims to continue his path in wine education, with the eventual aim of achieving the Master Sommelier certification, so that he may become ‘a reference figure for the wine and spirits sector in my country’.
He too was awarded a Wine Scholar Guild scholarship this year.
Tina Xie, pictured above tasting terroir with the late Gérard Basset, was raised in southern China in a culture that overwhelmingly favours males, but she overcame several hurdles to become a successful investment banker in Hong Kong. She felt something in her life was missing, however, and a real passion for wine was ignited by a trip to Burgundy and, appropriately enough, by meeting Gérard Basset. She built up the on-trade division of The Fine Wine Experience in HK whose founder, Linden Wilkie, says, ‘She often speaks about Gérard and acknowledges him as having lit the fire (as he did for so many).’ She is now also a very serious wine student, having passed the WSET Diploma and being a Certified Sommelier, although any travel plans are currently hampered by HK’s notoriously strict quarantine regulations.
In her application she wrote, ‘Today, my long-term ambition is twofold – to promote under-represented varieties, regions and producers, and to inspire other Asian females like myself to find success in the wine world. I have found some success through working closely with top chefs and sommeliers to host wine dinners. One particularly memorable experience was challenging the traditional pairing of red wines with red meat, by orchestrating a dinner event at the Hong Kong Jockey Club involving the pairing of mature Auslese Goldkapsels with steak. The pairing amazed guests and the dinner was a great success, leading to a record sale for fruity Riesling at the Club.’
She is clearly a force to be reckoned with!