Interview: Kathryn Rae – Indochine Restaurant Wine Stewardess

Indochine's Kathryn Rae.

Indochine’s Kathryn Rae.

How did you become interested in wine?
A boy. Need I say more? I used to date someone who worked in the Oenology lab at Stellenbosch University for extra credit and when he travelled to farms to gather samples, I would end up speaking to winemakers, farm labourers, restaurant and hotel staff and so on. My love for wine started with those conversations… that sort of passion is contagious.

Where did you study to become a sommelier?
I am still studying. Currently finishing my Cape Wine Sommelier course via CWA, attending classes for WSET level 3 and I start module 1 of CWA Diploma in August. The saying “You learn something new every day” couldn’t be more true when applied to the Somm trade…

What do you love most about your job?
A) People and B) the awesome science experiment that is your tongue!

What do you consider the fundamental principles of food and wine matching?
Two things: The guest’s personal preference and common sense. Often I will have a guest with very specific requirements – he only drinks red or only drinks white… wants a semi-sweet style or won’t touch a particular variety. This limits what you can and cannot work with as you can’t possibly recommend something the guest has told you they already have a mental block against. This is where common sense comes into play – once you know what you can work with, you think to yourself the textures and flavours of the dish they have chosen… You will suggest a wine based on all the components within the dish to either enhance or subdue aspects of the dish. Sometimes the guest is the one who teaches you something new and other times the guest’s happiness can only be found in that one bottle that would have been the LAST thing you would have suggested but their pleasure and satisfaction is more important than the ideal food and wine pairing (even if it makes you cringe a little on the inside).

What do you like most in a wine?
The fact that it changes and evolves. It’s alive.

Which wine do you think is most versatile with food?
A blend – they can have a little bit of everything in them which is handy when you have six to 10 people around a table all eating very different things but want to all drink from the same bottle.

What is your favourite food and wine combination?
A fruity and lively Pinot Noir with most things duck-related.

How many wines do you taste on average per day?
15-30. I try my best to taste every bottle I open.

Do wine ratings and scores matter?
Yes and no. Favourable ratings are certainly useful when trying upsell the wines to make target but sometimes the drinking experience of the customer doesn’t match the expectation created by the rating.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Sincere thanks for making a guest’s time memorable.

And the most frustrating?
Indecisive guests… the kind who ask a million questions and completely confuse themselves.

Your most embarrassing moment on the floor?
When I first started out as a waitress, I had no real clue how to open a bottle of bubbly. I was too busy gabbing away with the guests to bother paying attention as to where I was aiming and the cork flew out, smacking straight into the back of the head of another guest. He was an elderly gentleman who took it like a trooper. However, his wife gave me the stink-eye the rest of the night!

Indochine Restaurant is on Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch. To find out more, click here.

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