It’s not easy setting up a winemakers event at the best of times. But if you are based at the very tip of Cornwall, persuading a group of winemakers with busy schedules to make time for an entire weekend of events, and to get there in the first place, takes a very special kind of dedication. But for Ben Prior, whose restaurant Ben’s Cornish Kitchen is in Marazion and Portminster, the two events he’s organised this weekend – Riding the Third Wave and a winemakers dinner featuring five star chefs – are all part of his passion for South African wines. Fellow chef and wine expert Roger Jones talks to him about the weekend and how he has gone about expanding into online sales.
“My drive to really help show off these wines on my wine list came when I met the winemakers – their passion, drive, deep thought and care about every building block of the wine. It was inspiring to me and is how I feel about hospitality in my restaurant,” says Prior
The South Africans are in town; well actually they are hot-footing it down to Cornwall this weekend… for a bit of surfing? Possibly, but the reason they are heading down to Cornwall or specifically to Marazion and Portminster is down to one man, chef come South African wine lover – Ben Prior.
Although maybe rugby was more in these two South African winos on Tuesday night after the sold out “New Wave” tasting in London.
In recent years Ben has transformed his little restaurant Ben’s Cornish Kitchen by the seaside into a Mecca for South African wines, hosting a monthly focus on individual prestige South African wineries.
Ben has been with me on a couple of my wine safaris to South Africa, and even joined me in the kitchen at my pop-up events at The Vineyard Hotel. But where did his love of South African wine come from?
Ben, you’ve recently set up VinoSA, an online South African bottle shop. I guess having a base so far west in the beautiful seaside town of Marazion on the tip of Cornwall it had to be online, what do you feel the UK is missing from South Africa? I am assuming you are offering premium small parcels not seen otherwise in the UK?
I really just want to bring SA wines to more people. A lot of the higher end wines are bought on allocation and stored/saved for the growing secondary market in the hope of large profit, all the while the wines aren’t being drunk and the winemaker and the product are still obscure to the larger wine drinking community. There is a need for them to grow their brand if they are to continue.
What got you into the South African bug?
25 years ago I was unloading containers of SA wines imported by my boss at the time, Paul Milsom (Le Talbooth). It was the place I had my education in wine and the hospitallity trade, but my drive to really help show off these wines on my wine list came when I met the winemakers – their passion, drive, deep thought and care about every building block of the wine. It was inspiring to me and is how I feel about hospitality in my restaurant.
I hear there is some surfing event being organised by yourself for some of your South African wine dudes this weekend?
We are ‘Riding the Third Wave’ on Sept 6/7th – the winemakers are going to catch some real waves (fingers crossed) but the real aim is to introduce the south west to their wines from the trade and press to the public. We will also be holding a winemakers’ dinner at the amazing Porthminster beach with the help of super star chefs including Bertus Basson, Ryan Venning, Jude Kereama and Mick Smith. As well as having a proper braai maintaining the feel of the New Wave!
I know you have been twice to South Africa – last year sourcing wines, and at your restaurant; Ben’s Cornish Kitchen you highlighted a different South African winemaker every month pouring a substantial range from each one.
I suppose your guests fell in love with these wines, or you would not have been encouraged to set up VinoSA. Where do you envisage your online clients will come from ?
Wine lovers from all all over are waking up to the great wines coming out of SA. The wine sales in the restaurant always blows me away, and people’s willingness to try new wines – coming back for their new favourites time and time again. I am under no illusions that London will always be the bigger market but as we spread the word through pop-up tastings and social media, I believe it will grow and grow
Which SA winemakers have visited you? and besides sourcing your own wines what other suppliers are you sourcing from?
It’s a rather long list these days! I’m very proud to say (as it’s quite a trek down here) but to name a couple: I have had John Secombe, Sam O Keefe, Ginny Poval, Ken Forrester, Reenen Borman. It’s amazing the support I have had.. I feel bad not mentioning them all. I source from all over and I am very lucky to work closely with Richard Kelly MW but basically if there’s an importer of great SA wines I try to work with them. I have also started importing a couple wines myself – Erika Obermeyer & Gerhard Smit – trying to help them into the UK market.