It’s one of those beautiful balmy spring evenings when London feels immortal.
Steve and I are making our way – via a couple of Neck Oils – to Notting Hill’s Mazi restaurant. We’re here to catch up with two of our South African winemakers who are over here working the market.
But these aren’t just any two winemakers.
They are two of the most effervescent, inspiring, ravishing and super-talented winemakers on our list. (And I don’t even care for the phrase “super-talented!”)
Lovely to see you again, Sam and Elizma!
Hugs and kisses as we settle into Mazi’s courtyard. Then the shots of Mastiha Negronis are poured – followed quickly by another – and then the Assyrtiko, and then the sharing plates arrive, oh, and the bread, and the conversation is breathless. They’re catching up with each other as they’ve been working different parts of the country – “Oh, and I went there and you should have seen the restaurant…. “Oh, but I was there and what a night…” – and it’s non-stop. Steve and I can barely get a word it. We just nod.
And we eat. Heavenly plates: smoked aubergine; sea bass tartare; langoustine. The food here is stunning.
Samantha O’Keefe has the higher profile. Of Californian origin and owner of Greyton’s Lismore Estate, she had come from nowhere in double-quick time to become one of South Africa’s most awarded winemakers, with multiple Wines of the Year awards, before suffering the heartbreak of seeing her winery and house burn down in a December 2019 fire which went viral and provoked worldwide sympathy. She has rebuilt and is slowly getting back at her peak – but the memory still brings tears to her eyes.
Elizma Visser is the younger, and has been winemaker at Olifantsberg in the Breede River area of Worcester for the last few years, gaining a reputation for stylish and polished wines; Tim Atkin gave her the Best Young Winemaker gong in his last South African Report.
Amidst the giggles, there is much talk about itineraries, on which customers were soooo nice, and wasn’t that tasting well, and, oh yes, what plane are you on tomorrow morning?…
And the food keeps coming: courgette cakes; calamari; feta tempura.
But everything revolves around the wines. Which of their wines they are happiest with; which new techniques they are working on; the difference in terroir and climate between their two areas. And here’s the thing, Elizma is beginning to work with Syrah, a varietal which has elevated Sam to world-class status. Better still, Elizma has two samples which we open and begin to taste. And it here that the relationship between teacher and pupil is most obvious, with Sam endlessly giving out tips and suggestions. Did you think about this? Have you considered that? Elizma nods. We drink. This is good. Very good. Black olives, anise, thyme and lashings of plummy fruit.
And unbelievably, after all the food has been cleared away, Elizma then orders a plate of lamb – and wolfs it down. What a gal!
I take a quick photo on the hand held, and – lo and behold – it’s quite decent.
Later, on the tube, I study it again. Take a look. What do you see? What I see is the absolute affection and respect these two winemakers have for each other. And the laughter.
A pleasure to share the evening with them.