Ben Guarchara is a familiar and welcoming face at Camps Bay Retreat, and as the Head Waiter it’s his energy and welcoming smile that welcomes guests to sit down, relax and enjoy their retreat away from the world. Ben story is an interesting one from his roots in Zimbabwe, to Pretoria and finally into Cape Town where he has now been at Camps Bay Retreat since 2010. We sat down and had a chat with Ben as he prepared us the most amazing coffee, and then got into his story of falling in love with wine.
VNL: Ben, you’re originally from Zimbabwe, how did you find yourself on South African shores?
Ben: Yes, I’m originally from Zimbabwe but I used to come into South Africa and buy things, go back and sell it in Zimbabwe. With the Zimbabwe Dollar and inflation, that didn’t work out. I then thought I should go to Joburg and just try something. I had worked in bars before in Zimbabwe, and I had a couple of friends working in the industry. We were out one day and I met one of the guys who owned a restaurant in Pretoria and he liked me and offered me a job. We were talking about rugby and I was wearing a Blue Bulls jersey and he came to me and started speaking to me. Blue Bulls wasn’t my team though, I’m a Sharks supporter!
At the time everyone spoke about Cape Town because it was greener pastures for the hospitality industry and that’s how I made my way down here. I stayed here with friends for a few weeks, then I worked in Tygervalley, Century City, a few places in Long Street and then to a restaurant in Camps Bay. While there I saw an advert on Gumtree for Camps Bay Retreat and that’s how I found the job here.
VNL: Let’s take this all the way back, where was your start in the industry with regards to wine?
Ben: If we take it all the way back to where we are today, and my wine journey up until here…we’ll start with my first glass of wine in 2008. I wasn’t a guy who was into wines. At the time, my girlfriend who is now my wife, was working in Stellenbosch and she was given a bottle of wine. That was where my first glass of wine came from, the first glass I ever had. It didn’t make sense, the taste wasn’t good at first and I didn’t understand what it was, all I knew was that it was wine.
The funny thing is, I only had one glass, and from there, I don’t know what happened. It was an old wine, a 90’s vintage, it was very good. So after that, I left the rest of the wine, I didn’t even finish the glass that day.
At the time I was working in a coffee shop, then I worked in Long Street at amongst other places Dubliner, Long Street Cafe and that’s the time I first started dealing with wines. At the time I couldn’t even pronounce the names, it was so confusing, the sauvignon blancs, the cabernet sauvignons. But then I got a bottle and thought ‘Let me get to know a bit more about this wine’
We used to go for lessons as barmen to learn about beers, whisky, brandy, how to make cocktails and I received certificated for these. But they didn’t really take me away and impress me so I thought let me try the wines and see what’s in them. That’s when I started thinking about the wines and learning the names really well.
I then arrived at Camps Bay Retreat in November 2010 and luckily they had a lot of good wines and I had a bit of knowledge when it came to the names of wines. Some of them used to make me sweat just pronouncing them! From there I met Robyn who was my chef at the time, and Londoloza who I worked with, they made me learn more about the wines to understand them better.
The entrance to the cellar at Camps Bay Retreat
From there, I thought why can’t I just go to a college to learn about wines but I didn’t know where. I started Googling and came across the Cape Wine Academy, which is when I started finding out how I could become involved in wines.
At first it wasn’t my passion to be in wines, I was always the guy who wanted to be in the health sector. That’s where my passion was.
I always thought that the hospitality industry was only one where you can only make other people happy and you’ll be stressing the whole time. When I started with these wines, it was first just a part of my job until I started getting really interested in them. I started researching and learning about becoming a sommelier, which I didn’t know about before.
I started my first introduction to the wines in 2011, which is the first stage to becoming a sommelier. They teach you the about the wines, how they are made, the grapes, the cultivars and afterwards you write an exam. Once you pass with a minimum of 60% then you will go to the next stage where you are taught how to taste wine. After I passed that I went onto the second stage which is a lot of work, with lots of reading and research and it was a bit difficult.
At first when I started learning about wines, when someone said these wines tasted like orange or kiwi, I thought they added these fruits to the wines to give them that flavour but when I tasted them I couldn’t even taste those flavours. But once you’re taught and you taste more and more wines, you start to understand.
In June I’m doing my second of 4 stages of my Diploma to becoming a sommelier.
VNL: What are your thought on food and wine pairing? Some people fully believe in it while other’s don’t so much.
Ben: Well there’s nothing that is a wrong food or wine pairing, it all depends on what the person likes. Traditionally we say chardonnays go with fish but surprisingly recently I liked the chardonnay that we were having with the beef fillet.
The one I still need to do is the cheese and wine pairing which I’m doing next week. It’s not something I need to learn for my course, but it’s just for interest sakes.
VNL: Have you got any favourite wines at the moment?
Ben: When it comes to the red, especially the cab sav, you can’t take me away from La Mouette, I love it, it’s a great wine that complements a lot of different food especially red meat. If you get it full bodied, that’s a plus but sometimes it will be young and it needs to mature for a certain amount of time. But apart from that I enjoy it from young to old, to medium, everything.
I’m more into red but when it comes to white, Chardoanny is my favorite. The Tokara Chardonnay is still one of the best, I love that wine.
VNL: Has winemaking ever interested you?
Ben: It is, I have met a number of guys who make wine and it’s quite amazing and I do see it in my future. I love meeting people, talking with people and serving wines but the end part of it will be that I want to be a winemaker.
I want to to everything and understand everything better, and make my own wines. That’s where my passion is now, I’m not into the medical field anymore. I’m into wines and my end goal is to make these wines.
VNL: Ben, thanks so much for your time it’s been great learning about your journey and the direction you’re heading, and best of luck.
Ben: Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure.