When Tinashe was first hired by a South African restaurant, he was asked about his knowledge of wines. “I only knew red and wine”, he recalls.
When Pardon began wondering about the sommeliers around him, he tried wine for the first time: “I drank a little bit, and a little bit, and then I got sick for two days.”
Marlvin was equally unfamiliar with booze of any kind, having been raised in a Pentecostal church that forbids alcohol, before finding work as a wine taster; “Jesus’s first miracle was to turn water into wine,” he smiles.
“I remember well my very first sip of wine,” says Joseph, the current head sommelier at La Colombe restaurant: “And I didn’t like it.”
One of the contributors in this appealing documentary almost evokes the plot of Cool Runnings, a fictionalised comedy inspired by the Jamaica national bobsleigh team’s debut in the 1988 Winter Olympics. Blind Ambition chronicles the similarly unlikely tale of four Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa who enter World Wine Tasting Championships, an event wherein contestants are required to identify the species of grape used, the vintage, and the country where it was made, and the region where it was produced.
Team Zimbabwe are new to their passion and certainly not born to the business. Joseph recounts a harrowing cross-border journey during which he and his wife started to cook through in a hot railway car.
“The odds are stacked against them,” says British sommelier, Jancis Robinson, who kick-started the team’s crowdfunding initiative. “Being in Cape Town on a tight budget is really very, very trying. The world of wine is very bad at diversity. It’s white faces, wall to wall.”
This already improbable dream boasts an interesting supporting cast. Chris Bishop, a Forbes journalist, acts as the team’s temporary coach before they employ the services of Denis Garret, a walking wine encyclopedia who was “once the best wine taster in the world”. He turns out to be quite a character: an unlikely (and dangerous) motorcyclist who is deaf in one ear from shooting too many birds in his youth.
“One morning I wake up and say to my wife I have good news and bad news,” says Garret with eye-watering candour. “I give you all my fortune and you leave immediately. Because she was too much for me. Wah wah wah. Crying. She was never satisfied.”
Tensions soon flare between the competing coaches, but the quartet’s enthusiasm cannot be dented. They don’t quite get the fairy tale ending they deserve, but they come close enough.