Vineyards and Vintages – Meet Our Group Sommelier Michelle le Roux

Meet Michelle le Roux, our Group Sommelier, as she uncorks the fusion between her love of wine and her career with Morukuru Family.

What were the driving forces that ignited your passion for the world of hospitality and wine?  I started my journey in the Greater Kruger area, where I worked for a lodge owner that had a passion for Wine. Inever understood what was so intriguing about wine and the art of wine-making until she started teaching me about pairings. It was magic to me. Wine had the alchemy to transform a simple taste into something so complex. Fromthere, I was determined to understand as much as possible about wine.

How does a typical day unfold?  I kickstart my day with a peaceful morning meditation followed by invigorating yoga, setting a positive tone for the hours ahead. As a dedicated host at Morukuru Family Madikwe,  my top priority is ensuring the comfort and satisfaction of our guests. Attending to their every need is a gratifying responsibility that I take on willingly. Throughout the day, I will make it a point to meticulously stock up on a wide range of beverages, ensuring that our selection caters to every preference, whether it's a spirit or carefully selected wine. From sunrise to sunset, I get to indulge in what I love, making every moment count in this captivating setting.

As the group sommelier – do the three different properties influence your wine selections and recommendations? I aim to ensure a consistent wine list experience for all guests visiting the Morukuru Family. However, I also recognise the importance of tailoring the wine list to match the unique character of each region. My aim is to ensure that when guests depart, they will carry a sense of familiarity with them and feel right at home after having this experience at Morukuru Family.

You are based in the Madikwe - is that remote location a barrier to keeping current with the wine and beverage industry? Nowadays, with technology, we all live in a global village which allows me to stay up to date with the ever-evolving world of wine trends. My dedication to wines extends behind the confines of work, as I find myself continuously engrossed in all things vinous. During my off time, my destination of choice is the captivating Cape wine region. There I regularly find myself tasting new upcoming wines and visiting popular or lesser-known wine farms.  I am also an active member of various wine clubs, which keeps me in the loop with the latest trends and awards. These clubs ensure I am always up to date on emerging wine ranges and trends.

Wine and food pairing is an art. Could you suggest some unconventional but delightful wine and food pairings that you've discovered? The conventional wisdom of matching red meat with red wine and white meat with white wine has long been upheld by wine enthusiasts. however, I challenge this notion as wholeheartedly as my personal experiences have led me down a different path. There’s inexplicable magic that happens when I savour a succulent venison steak alongside a Riesling or when the rich flavours of a grilled kingklip are complemented by the subtle elegance of a smooth Pinot Noir.

What are your thoughts on specific regions or unique varietals that deserve more recognition? If so, what makes them stand out to you? Exploring the hidden gem of the garden route, I’ve uncovered a treasure trove of exceptional wines and charming vineyards that often fly under the radar. While this region might not be widely recognised for its wine offerings, the unique climate lends itself remarkably well to cultivating outstanding Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs.

How do you handle go about recommending wines to guests with diverse tastes?  As each person is unique and has their own special preferences, it is vital to get to know that person’s likings and tastes before making any wine recommendations.  My first question will always be what their most favoured wine choices are, seeking insight into their preferences. This initial question unveils substantial information about the person, shedding light on whether they lean towards fruit notes, lighter bodies, or even a preference for more acidic wines. With this information, I will be able to navigate to make the correct recommendations.

What are some of your favourite food & wine pairings? Indulging in cheese, I’m particularly drawn to the captivating pairing of goat’s cheese with a delightful light Sauvignon Blanc. Cheese and wine is a classic for a reason!

Which wine estates or winemakers are on your watchlist? I have had my eyes on Paul Cluver for quite some time now. Their Pinot Noir has truly become a favourite of mine.  Andries Burger is a winemaker at Paul Cluver Family Wines and a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild. This year, his expertise has led to the creation of award-winning Chardonnay, adding to their impressive repertoire.

Morukuru Family has a culture of teamwork. How do you translate that to elevate guest experience? I take immense pleasure in supporting my team with wine pairings, and I’m always eager to conduct tastings. My top advice for consistently nailing the perfect food-wine pairing revolves around looking beyond just the protein element of a dish. Instead, I focus on all the intricate components of a dish- from creamy sauces to starches, roasting methods, and the use of oils. Considering every facet allows the wine to harmonize beautifully with the dish and vice versa.

The world’s your oyster. where are you headed, and what are you tasting? There are still numerous experiences awaiting me, I have a profound affection for sparkling wine. I can easily envision relishing Cava on a picturesque beach in Spain or strolling through the Bordeaux vineyards, savouring a glass of an exquisite Bordeaux blend.

Share a humorous, charming or cringe-worthy anecdote story from your experiences as a sommelier. A spittoon at wine tastings! That, for me, is very awkward, and I’ve always found it challenging to spit out a sip of wine- considering the meticulous effort put into crafting it, the act seems counterintuitive to me personally.

What are some of the must-have varietals one should have in a cellar? As a proud South African, I firmly believe that a cellar is incomplete without a selection of Pinotage, Cape Blend and Method Cap Classique. These quintessential choices represent the essence of our rich winemaking heritage.

What are your top tips for storing and drinking wine? Some pointers are to make sure that no direct light falls on the bottles, maintain a cool and dark environment, and regularly monitor temperatures for whites and reds. Always be sure to store your wine horizontally. When it comes to savouring wine, I often advise relishing the initial sip, akin to the wine’s rebirth, encapsulating its true essence.

Cheers to Michelle le Roux and her discerning expertise.