The Hilton uncorks SA wines in Windhoek
Windhoek's new Hilton Hotel is doing good things for SA wine, says Sue de Groot
Eldon Kaiyamo, a 31-year-old Windhoek wine fanatic, glows with fervent delight as he surveys his new domain, where rows of fine wines sparkle behind glass fridge doors. The market for wine in Namibia may not be enormous, but it has become a great deal more discerning over the past 10 years, much to Kaiyamo's delight.
"Ten years ago, Namibians could only buy Nederburg and Chateau Libertas, but now we have more channels of distribution and suppliers bringing in good South African wine. Wine-drinking culture has changed: eight years ago there was one wine bar, now there are four or five and they are all packed."
Kaiyamo helped open Windhoek's first wine bar in 2003, while finishing his degree in hotel management at Windhoek Polytechnic. His employer and mentor, advocate Dave Smuts, took him on wine-sourcing trips to the Cape, and a love of the vine was born. Kaiyamo began subscribing to every wine publication available and studying the pedigree of wines. Today he is the food-and-beverage manager of the new D'Vine Wine Bar at Windhoek's fledgling Hilton Hotel, with the added responsibility of drawing up wine lists for all five of the hotel's food outlets.
Hotels, he says, are part of his heritage. The son of a diplomat, he spent nine of his childhood years in Russia, Germany and Austria. "We would live in hotels for months at a time," he says. "I would bond with the cleaning staff, the bellboys, the waiters. I loved the sense of family."
Kaiyamo's first foray into hotel management, however, was not a howling success. "I went up north to manage a bush lodge, and a year there taught me that I am definitely a city boy. I didn't like being out in the wild."
Back in town, he managed a three-star hotel for two years and loved it, before being poached by the Hilton, where he is in his element at D'Vine.
"We've created a small menu, with particularly good cheese boards and some excellent wines to go with them. We now stock Californian, French and Portuguese wines, as well as boutique SA wines that you can't get anywhere else in Namibia. I hold informal wine tastings for guests and more formal tasting sessions for corporate groups, and we've lined up SA winemakers who will come and talk to interested locals, wine clubs and hotel guests. My favourite thing is seeing someone's eyes light up as they look at a wine list and say, 'I'll have that - I remember it from Eldon's wine tasting!'"