Ever since I met fellow Zimbabwean and world-class sommelier Joseph Dhafana, I’ve been unable to retell his story without tearing up with enormous pride and admiration. His meteoric rise from refugee to sommelier and winemaker is a poignant and powerful reminder of the power of the human spirit. In the blog post we published last year about Joseph, I wrote: ‘Just as the mighty oak’s destiny is written in a tiny acorn, Joseph Dhafana is proof that there is more to life than can be explained by genetics or environment.’
A story of destiny
A decade ago, Joseph arrived in South Africa as a refugee from Zimbabwe and lived on the streets in Johannesburg before finding a job as a gardener. Today he’s a world-class sommelier, winemaker and the subject of Blind Ambition: a documentary film that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last month. As the highly anticipated follow-up to Red Obsession by Australian filmmakers Warwick Ross and Robert Coe (narrated by Russell Crowe), Blind Ambition more than delivers. In fact, having watched it, any hesitation I may have had around the idea of destiny is long gone. For it’s a story about four Zimbabweans – Joseph, Tinashe Nyamudoka, Marlvin Gwese and Pardon Taguzu – who left their homeland for South Africa in search of a better life elsewhere, and against each of their own unique set of insurmountable odds, created it.
For the love of wine
The documentary takes up after they have found jobs in restaurants in Cape Town and become interested enough in wine to train as sommeliers. Their shared backgrounds and new love of wine led them to one another and to the decision to form the first-ever Zimbabwean team to compete in The World Blind Wine Tasting Championships – essentially, the Olympics of the wine world.
‘I had traveled to France in 2015 as part of Team South Africa to take part in the championship,’ explains Joseph. ‘It was then that I had the idea to found a team for Zimbabwe with the sommeliers I had met in South Africa.’ Before they knew it, they were signed up for the 2017 Championships in Burgundy, France with Joseph as captain, and international sommelier, Frenchman Denis Garret as coach. Joseph had struck up a friendship with Denis years before when he was working as a sommelier at a restaurant in Cape Town. Then, Denis predicted that Joseph’s palate would make him one of the top sommeliers in South Africa – how right he was. Spurred on by their success at the 2017 championships, they went on to participate in the 2018 championships in Languedoc, France when Blind Ambition was filmed.
Defying all odds
One commentary from the documentary that remains with me is the observation that sending a team from Zimbabwe to France to do a blind wine tasting in France is like sending a ski-team from Egypt to the Winter Olympics. It defies all odds, given Zimbabwe’s history, that their team would have been able to compete in such a ratified and established tradition. ‘It was a totally overwhelming experience for all of us,’ recalls Joseph. ‘You have to remember that you are competing against people who have grown up with wine over a 30-year period, while I grew up as a member of a Pentecostal church where wine was considered a sin.’
With 23 countries participating, the stakes were high for the championship – which essentially is about identifying not just the grape variety, but also the producer, the vintage, the region and the country of the wines. While I won’t reveal any more, as you have to see this documentary for yourself, suffice it to say it’s a heartwarming, hugely emotional and inspiring story of their journey to becoming some of Africa’s best and most unlikely sommeliers. And a tale of which Bacchus, the Olympian God of Wine, would be most proud.
Experience a wine tasting with Joseph
We’re very proud to announce that Joseph will host a wine tasting for us at Matetsi and share his story with us when we touch down in Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls next month as part of the ROAR AFRICA Emirates Executive Private Jet Safari. He will also be traveling to New York later in the year for a very special screening of Blind Ambition for ROAR AFRICA clients and guests, as well as a tasting.