Just as the mighty oak’s destiny is written in a tiny acorn, Joseph Dhafana is proof positive that there is more to life than can be explained by genetics or environment. For just ten years ago Joseph and his wife Amelia – who originally hail from rural Chirumanzu in Zimbabwe – arrived in South Africa as refugees.
‘We had had enough of the tyranny of Mugabe,’ recalls Joseph. ‘In Zimbabwe there was no food on the shelves, no money in circulation and no jobs available.’ Feeling they had nothing to lose, Joseph and Amelia arrived in Johannesburg and slept on the streets for their first two weeks until they found a temporary home with a cousin. However, not long after fate stepped in when they decided to move to the Western Cape and settle in the Boland town of Riebeek Kasteel where Joseph found work as a gardener at a restaurant and Amelia as a receptionist at the local hotel. Barely a year later, Joseph found himself tasting his first glass of sparkling wine on the occasion of his birthday and it did not go down well.
‘I didn’t like it,’ he says with a grin. ‘Zimbabwe doesn’t have a wine culture, particularly among the black culture, so much so, that you rarely see an empty wine bottle let alone a full one.’ Nevertheless, it awakened something in him, in that he realized that he wanted to do more than drink it. ‘I was interested in the process of winemaking and eager to understand it.’ It must have been obvious to the local winemakers too because while Joseph worked his way from gardener to dishwasher, and barman to waiter – local winemakers Chris Mullineux, Eben Sadie and Roger Clayton were frequently asking him to taste wines from their barrels. Joseph’s ‘aha’ moment came in 2013 when Chris Mullineux brought him a glass of his White Blend and asked his opinion on its acidity. ‘I gave him my most honest thoughts,’ is all Joseph can recall. But the rest – as they say – is history for that very same year Joseph took part in the harvest with Chris and earned his first wine certificate.
From thereon, Joseph’s trajectory was speedy with his maiden vintage in 2014, a barrel of 100% Syrah selling out within the year. In 2015, he produced a second vintage of his Syrah and entered the Blind Wine Tasting Competition in Cape Town, that led to him representing South Africa in France later that year. Fast forward to 2020 and he’s juggling his wine label, a career as the Head Sommelier at Cape Town’s La Colombe Restaurant (one of South Africa’s best fine-dining restaurants) and his work as a wine judge. Last year saw him awarded the Eat Out Wine Service Award for his work as a sommelier while this year he received a Zimbabwe Global Impact Award (ZAA), given to exceptional personalities who live outside of Zimbabwe for the ambassadorial role they play in shining a positive light on the country.
‘I could never in my wildest dreams have predicted this back when I was living in Zimbabwe,’ says Joseph of his stratospheric success. However, his fellow winemakers and industry peers credit him with an impeccable work ethic, professionalism, humility and his natural affinity for wine, as major contributors to his success. With five wine vintages under his label named Mosi, from Mosi-oa-tunya meaning ‘the smoke that thunders’ or Victoria Falls – Joseph’s bonds with the country of his birth remain strong. In addition to their many commitments and raising their teenage son, Joseph and Amelia are also involved in charitable works that empower communities back home in Zimbabwe in addition to raising awareness about the plight of child brides. ‘I see wine as a language which every human can speak, that has spawned a culture that brings people together regardless of gender, race, religion or origin,’ he says simply. For a man of such character, his calling seems destined.
For more information on Joseph Dhafana, or if you’d like us to include a tasting with Joseph as part of your next luxury safari experience, mail firstname.lastname@example.org