Ross Sleet has enjoyed a wide and mixed career working both in the UK and South African wine trade for Matthew Clark, Constellation Europe, Kleine Zalze, Cape Legends and currently with Tanzania’s premium wine suppliers for the on-trade. His average week is very different than most of us.
Ross Sleet gives a fascinating insight in life working in the African wine trade as country manager for MMI Tanzania, a premium wine supplier for the country’s burgeoning restaurant and bar sectors.
Can you describe your average week?
Monday is catch up day, so meetings with my Dar Es Salaam team and then telecoms with my Arusha and Zanzibar teams. The rest of the week is either spent in trade in Dar, of if I’m travelling to my regional offices, at key account meetings and tastings, or if we are hosting a brand principal, spending time with them in trade explaining the market dynamics.
The trade here is very fluid so you have to spend a lot of time getting to know customers’ businesses so you can be more effective and not try and foist product on them that won’t sell. Weekends are pretty quiet unless there is an event on.
What was the highlight of your last working week?
Flying into Zanzibar – the view always gets me, crystal clear waters and the historical Stonetown are sights that I will never forget. And I get to go there once a month for business!
What is the bet part of your job?
Definitely the travel. Seeing places like Zanzibar, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti are privileges afforded few, so to visit these iconic places as part of work is simply unbelievable.
Is there anything about your job you would like to improve?
It would be nice if someone can improve the traffic situation in Dar, it can take upwards of one and a half hours to get from one side of the city to the next, which isn’t as bad as Lagos, but is a lot worse than Cape Town!
How has 2016 been for you and your business?
Challenging is the key word here! We have very seasonable business in Zanzibar and Arusha which services the safari circuit, but Dar has been up and down. Premium is growing all the time but the middle price points are a real challenge.
What are the key trends are impacting your business?
Premium wine and spirits are on the increase in all areas, but consumers here are under pressure and cash is in short supply. The fluctuations in tourism numbers to Africa has a dramatic impact on our business, but thankfully Tanzania is a peaceful country with a welcoming attitude. We are lucky at MMI to have a large range of products at various price points so are protected to a certain extent but still it’s a competitive market so no room for standing still.
Where is the favourite restaurant you have eaten in this year and why?
It has to be Thai Kani here in Dar. Great Thai food which suits the climate very well.
What is the favourite bottle of wine you have had in the last month? Why and where did you drink it?
Well that has to be a bottle of Ken Forrester Chenin a colleague and I shared at Pioneer Camp in the Southern Serengeti. It was full moon and the plains leaped out at you like a movie scene. One for the memory banks indeed.
The favourite cocktail you have had this year? Why and where did you drink it?
Gin cocktail mixed by erstwhile colleague, great twist on a classic and sipped overlooking the hills of central Serengeti. Oh, and did I mention the hippos making a racket?
IF you could pick three people for a classic dinner party from the trade who would they be?
Dan Townsend (Treasury Wine Estates), always a gent and more bang for your buck you won’t fine. Oz Clarke because he’s got more yarns than anyone I’ve met, and Neleen Strauss from High Timber – I’ve only met her two or three times but her gutzpah is fantastic. Not sure I’ll still be standing after that lot get going though.
Best job you have had in your career?
I guess it’s this one, training in the Serengeti and an office in Zanzibar. Not too shabby! Sadly I’m leaving at the end of this month to go back to be with my family so I’ll be happy to return home but will be sad to leave Tanzania.
Best film /book that includes wine/drink?
Does the Good Wife count? She always pours a massive glass of wine which she never finishes.
Where are you going on summer holidays and are what you drinking?
Hopefully to Arniston in the Southern Cape, and my wife, daughters and I will always tuck into some Chenin and Sauvie after a tough day on the beach. Too many brands to choose from so whatever takes our fancy.
- Ross Sleet will be looking for consultancy work in South Africa when he returns there later in the summer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.