Francois Rautenbach

Wine Cellar, Boulders at Singita Game Reserves

Sommelier is a profession admired by many. Sampling exquisite wines in the world’s most jaw-dropping locations is something many wine lovers would jump at the opportunity to experience, if just for a day. Few other sommeliers better define this enviable role than François Rautenbach, whose goal at Singita Ebony Lodge is to make every wine tasting an unforgettable experience.

Q When did you have your first glass of wine?

Other than visiting my first Parisian Bistro at the tender age of 10 days old, it was certainly somewhat later than that, but at an early age, as my family believed in the French tradition of offering ‘watered’ wine with meals shared by the family.

Apart from these early “tutored tastings,” my early impressions of dining out were that of the terrific scream the steam wand would make on the San Marco and Gaggia espresso machines, as professional Italian waiters would make latte’s and cappuccinos. Needless to say, I am a great coffee lover. However, I prefer enjoying my coffee black, “straight up”.

Q When did you decide that you wanted to be a sommelier?

Growing up in a family where food and wine were a daily discussion point led to an early start to a hospitality career ‘moonlighting’ from school at the tender age of 14. In the early years, I worked and trained both front and back-of-house.

Post school studies led in an artistic direction. However, the draw of the hospitality industry remained and I returned full time to the restaurant business. At this time, I was seriously encouraged to study wine. However, being of the opinion that all “wine experts were snobs,” I resisted for some time, although I eventually succumbed and discovered a study area that was both pleasurable and stimulating, if approached in a non-intimidating way. I managed, therefore, to complete my initial wine studies in 2 years rather than the usual 3.

Shortly after this period, I was placed in a position to take my enthusiastic amateur cooking to a professional level and embarked on a serous cooking career, whilst remaining involved in the wine industry.

Opportunities thus opened, through personal and professional contacts, to travel and work extensively in France, Britain, Australia and South Africa, all the while combining the two aspects of food and wine.

Q What is the greatest wine you have ever opened?

When immersed in wine, there are many wonderful wine tastings that come about. Some of these would be superb Vinoteque Vintages of Dom Perignon and Bollinger, a rare almost irreplicable opportunity to taste 15 vintages of Chateau d’Yquem, a ’63 Mouchão from Alentejo, Portugal recently and then would be the opportunity to taste the 1959 Grand Cru from Maison Louis Jadot.

Francois Rautenbach

Q What is the most fascinating wine tasting/pairing that you have overseen and what are the details?

Try as I might, the numerous wonderful opportunities I have experienced pale against the pleasure I derive from guests who discover really memorable experiences from combinations of our food, with a specifically selected wine to accompany or contrast to the flavors.

Q Who is your favorite vintner?

In South Africa, I am currently excited about the wines of David Nieuwoudt of Cederberg and Ghost Corner Winery and Carl Schultz of Hartenberg Estate, although there are a handful of others emerging to lead a wave of attention grabbing wines, showcasing the diversity of South African wine styles and growing conditions.

Q  What makes a great wine in your opinion?

A great wine is one that expresses a sense of its home or place, as well as the grapes it’s made from and the sympathetic nurturing of the winemaker. The food, surroundings and conversation all have a significant influence on the appreciation and memory of any such wine.

Q  How do you keep up with knowledge about new wines?

I develop and maintain a wide range of personal relationships across the wine industry, basing much of my direct knowledge on personal interaction and experience.  The internet and liquor related email newsfeeds are also particularly valuable to ensure strong current affairs and knowledge to keep up with the industry.

Francois Rautenbach

Q  What is the most interesting aspect of your job that you could you share with us?

The opportunity to offer a memorable experience for so many guests, who may have the disposable income and the travel experience to purchase the widest range and rarest wines of the world ,but who often have not had the opportunity to learn why and how one should enjoy those wines in a non-intimidating manner.

Q  If you were planning a dream dinner party, what food would you serve and what wine would be paired with the food?

The food would be dictated by the season and the place of the dinner party, which would give guidance as to the character of the meal. I would seek to combine a contemporary take on the local produce with Mediterranean influences and a hint of European classicism.

In terms of the wine, I would start with a bottle of fermented bubbly and try and introduce a Fino Sherry if the food style allowed. The remaining white and red wines would be very dependent of the final menu make-up.

Q  Is there anything that might be interesting to know about you, the wine cellar you oversee or wine in general?

Singita Premier Wine is a unique development within the African Hospitality industry. With the vision and support of our proprietor, Luke Bailes, we have not only been able to create the most extensive wine offering with temperature controlled maturation and distribution, but we have also been able to capture the tidal wave of interest in the growth of wine that has swept across the world’s travelers over the past decade.

In this regard we not only offer ‘info-tainment’ – non intimidating wine tastings daily in our Iconic Bush Lodge Cellars, but also offer added value with regard to as much additional information as needed for all wines we carry. We make them all available for personally selected consignments to be taken or sent across the world to our guest’s homes.

Now, this is an exciting job if you love great food, wine and exotic safaris possible at Singita Private Game Reserves in Kruger National Park.

– The Gourmet Review

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