Wine exporter | Consultant
In the industry since 2005
Published the Sommelier’s Perspective column in Classic Wine
Aged 18, Michael Gabagas encountered his first taste of red working at the Fairview estate in 2004 – in the cheese deli. ‘But the wine bug bit.’ After taking a course at the Cape Wine Academy, he completed his first harvest at Fairview. He subsequently attended the Elsenburg Agricultural College, studying winemaking and pomology. Michael also spent just over four years at Solms-Delta, as host and wine representative.
He has been a sommelier at some of South Africa’s top establishments, including Spier, Grande Roche and the Oyster Box. This meant navigating wine lists boasting over 500 vintages, and dealing with a sticky customer who claimed a R10 000 bottle of Dom Perignon was corked. ‘I begged to differ, and noted that it was simply made in an oxidated style.’ The client finished the bottle.
Michael also spent time in Helsinki, becoming something of an unofficial ambassador for South African wines in Scandinavia. He still maintains firm links with that part of the world, although he has since returned to the Cape. He is a constant and spontaneous advocate of the local industry. ‘Wine is the lens through which I view the world.’
In Helsinki, Michael completed the WSET level three course, as part of an international business degree. As a gregarious connector and networker, he simultaneously promoted South African wines through events and media appearances. There’s an unmistakable smile in his voice when he talks about introducing someone to the wine world for the first time. ‘Look, smell, taste. That’s all you need. Yes, there’s an intellectual process, but the way a consumer experiences wine is up to them – not the winemaker.’
He considers his current position uniquely stimulating. ‘I am an indigenous African who represents a product of the African soil to the world. That feels like quite something.’ It is certainly a grand vision, made real across countless lunch and dinner tables. For Michael, wine is an all-encompassing product – a symbol of humanity’s interaction with nature; of time, hard work, science and artistry. Each bottle represents a chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. ‘I will continue to appreciate what I do for as long as I live.’