As the Restaurant Manager and Sommelier at Majeka House, a 5-star boutique hotel in Stellenbosch, Brenda Karamba takes guests on a journey. Because not only is Brenda a warm, hospitable host with an incredible knowledge of wines, she is a storyteller.
Like a much-loved fable, the stories Brenda shares may be familiar but are no less rich in heritage and heart.
What I like most about my job...
“What I like most about my job is, every time I open a bottle, it’s a different journey. It tells you about the winemaker, about the farm. Because I don’t just open a bottle to sell or to drink. It’s more of understanding where the winemaker is coming from. The whole story that he went through, where he’s coming from, what he’s trying to prove, and where the wine is going.”
As in any good story, the characters are central. So much of traditional wine tasting is about the traits of the wine, the methods of vinification, the grapes and the soil. Brenda, on the other hand, tells the story of the people behind each wine’s full-body, mouthfeel, and legs.
“It’s all about the sweat and the time and energy of the winemakers, the horticulturists, the pickers, the ladies or the gentlemen who man the farms and the vines. I wish people could understand more, understand the background of what goes into making wine. Every winemaker and farm in Stellenbosch has a history behind it.”
For Brenda, one of the most important aspects of her role is to educate people—international visitors and locals alike—about South African wine, its journey from planting to pouring, and also its excellence.
Before Covid-19 and the lockdown gripped the wine industry, Brenda saw many South Africans asking for international wines from Italy or France. Now, since the business has resumed in level 2, she’s been excited to see more locals ordering South African wines.
Whether its due to South Africans tightening their belts or a concerted effort to support local businesses and farms, Brenda is running with this trend, echoing the sentiment she’s long practised, “Local is lekker.”
Her one piece of advice to travellers at the moment, “Please support our local businesses and then we all will survive. These are tough times and we need your help.”
And much like the meticulous and often unseen steps that go into winemaking—the travel industry has likewise spent the duration of lockdown in careful preparation. Behind the scenes, the travel industry rolled out a robust set of health and safety protocols and businesses across the country quickly implemented these protocols, adapting their operations and training staff along the way.
The way forward
Brenda’s number one priority right now is safety and she’s never without her mask and hand sanitiser (and wine opener). Everything gets sanitised in front of the guests and she limits contact as much as possible. While this may mean a little less guest interaction, for the time being, the experience—joining Brenda on this journey, dining at Majeka House, and basking in the beauty of Stellenbosch—is just as special as always.