Dining without wine: an interview with award-winning Sommelier Joseph Dhafana

Pairing gourmet meals with some of South Africa’s finest wines is a match made in gastronomy heaven and for restaurants located on a wine estate, wine pairings are more than just an added offering – they are part of the restaurant’s DNA.

When the alcohol ban was instated in South Africa as part of COVID-19 safety
measures, its effects immediately began to impact the food industry. With many restaurateurs dependent on alcohol as part of their sales and, in some cases, viewing it as a crucial part of their dining service, the ban had far-reaching consequences across the country.


But some restaurants rose to the challenge, by creating innovative non-alcoholic
options to substitute wine pairings and their overall drinks menu. We spoke to the winner of the 2019 Eat Out Wine Service Award, Joseph Dhafana from La Colombe, about this switch, its inspiration, challenges and successes.

How La Colombe adapted to the alcohol ban

Dealcoholised wines were sourced locally and paired together with some of La Colombe’s renowned contemporary dishes.

Alcohol-free beers, gin and even kombucha replaced some of the regular offerings, but this is not where the innovation ended. Brand-new cocktails such as the apple lapacho cocktail were also introduced to the menu. Joseph’s favourite cocktail, the lightly spiced mango lassi with cinnamon, cloves, sultanas and curried coconut shavings, features alongside signature offerings such as the Kerala-style quail, prawn and coriander dish.

“We had to find a solution not only to increase our beverage sales but also to
create a great experience for our guests who’ve come to expect that from us,” says
Joseph on the importance of adapting and innovating a menu.

Fear of the unknown is a common dread when venturing into uncharted territory, even for an established sommelier and winemaker of Joseph’s calibre.

“Non-alcoholic pairings were always on the cards because we were working
towards catering for guests who don’t consume alcohol for cultural beliefs or due
to pregnancy but, still, we didn’t know if these new drinks were going to be well
received,” Joseph admits.

We had to go local as this is the time when we need to support each other the most.

The availability of some of the ingredients needed to create their non-alcohol offering was another challenge the La Colombe team faced, owing to the dwindling number of local food producers who were able to weather the COVID-19 storm.

Despite the challenges, La Colombe insisted on sourcing local produce. “We had to go local as this is the time when we need to support each other the most,” he says – a heartfelt sentiment shared by many South Africans during this time.

As the country moved to level two of the lockdown, restrictions were relaxed
and diners were once again able to enjoy their favourite wines along with their
meal when dining out. But requests for non-alcoholic drinks are still trending at
La Colombe, which speaks volumes about the success of their new offering.

How willing is Joseph to continue to offer lassis over wine? “Well, a lot of people seem to like it and so, honestly, why not?” he says. If anything, providing more options will probably only encourage more diners to venture out of their homes.

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