Blind Ambition Star Tinashe Nyamudoka and Co-Directors Warwick Ross & Robert Coe Talk Wine Olympics, Refugee Stories, and More in These Interviews

Blind Ambition is the new film from co-directors Warwick Ross and Robert Coe. It follows the journey of Zimbabwean refugees Joseph, Tinashe, Marlvin and Pardon as they start a new life in South Africa, uniting to become the first Zimbabwean team to compete in the World Wine Blind Tasting Championships aka the Olympics of the wine world.

In the below interviews, one of the teammates, Tinashe Nyamudoka talks about his journey to becoming a sommelier, tasting different countries through wine, exercising and caring for his palate, and what it was like getting to experience the tournaments over again on film.

This interview is followed with a discussion between co-director Warwick and Robert as they explore their filmmaking process, the joys of wine, and what brought them on to the story of the Zimbabwe Wine Tasting team.

Blind Ambition is in Australian cinemas from March 3rd 2022.

Thank you very much for your time.

It’s a pleasure.

How is it knowing that the film is now out in the world?

You know, we’ve been up and down with this thing. First of all, when the guys say, “Okay, guys, there’s gonna be a documentary,” there’s that initial excitement. Then you start shooting that excitement, and the shooting is done. And because we don’t know, [we’re] expecting maybe in a few months the documentary will be out there. Then for a year, “Oh guys, we’re still in editing. It’s not out.” Then they tell you it’s finished.

Then you say “Okay, so when is it gonna come out?” Oh okay, it’s gonna be in the film festivals, Tribeca, all that stuff. Then you kind of lay low after Tribeca. “Okay, is it coming out on Netflix?” No. It’s gonna go to cinemas first. Okay. Then after the cinemas, launching this. It’s been a whirlwind. So now I understand how film works. But it’s exciting that people are starting to watch it. You know, on a daily basis, I was getting questions: “When is the documentary coming out?” I think people have been anticipating long enough. And yeah, I can’t wait to share the story with everyone.

I imagine it’s got to be really exciting for family and friends, they all want to see it, they all want to experience it again, especially people who were part of your journey, part of your story. To be able to see it come to life in this manner is going to be very exciting for them too.

Definitely. It will resonate with a lot of people. That’s what I think. We’re just fortunate that it’s the four of us who’ve got to go in front of the camera and tell the story. But I think it’s a story that resonates with millions of people around the world.

Very much so and especially right now with the changes in the world that are happening, refugee stories is really very important. Let’s start back when Robert and Warwick first got in contact with the four of you. What was your impression of them to start off with? What was in your mind?

You know, in my mind, I was like, “Geez, what?” Because if you are the subject, you never realise what’s important. So for me, it was a normal story. I went through it, and it’s just part of life. But I don’t think it ever registered, the impact then. It was just okay, I’m that fortunate guy who’s gonna have this story. But along the line and mostly so now, that’s where you really start to get the vision of what they saw and how they wanted to tell the story in their own perspective and what they wanted to achieve. And I’ve always felt in my life that you know, I’m here for a purpose as well. And if my story can inspire and motivate someone else, that’s living God’s purpose for me.

It comes across in the film too, how much this story and your life journey means to not just you and your family and friends but to others, to strangers, to people who you might never meet? Has that kind of interaction been pretty exciting for you? Because I know that you do social media wonderfully. I’ve been looking through your Instagram and just loving the photos and seeing all these beautiful photos and this beautiful food and this beautiful wine. How is it connecting with strangers in the world for you?

It’s just amazing. I think for me, that’s one part that wine has done for me. I grew up very introverted, not even wanting to converse, but I converse through stories, through pictures and sharing. I might be cooking, it might be a new wine, I might be with my family, with my daughters. I always get the reaction. People want to see more, they want to be part of it. And it’s much more natural. It’s not like I have to think about content. If I’m not feeling posting anything, I don’t. The reception I get is the same. You never understand it if you’re the one [posting], but the impact it has on other people is really heartfelt. Sometimes you get upset to really post because now people are worried about you. If you don’t post or something, it’s like, “Are you okay? You know, we need some motivation, please put something out.” So it’s something that I just actually enjoy, that I don’t force. But it’s my life with pictures and captions.

I must say you talking about being quite introverted and then finding wine and using that as a connection to talk to people – it reflects my story in a way where I was very introverted before doing film criticism and interviews, and then started doing interviews and talking to people like yourself, and then getting to share their stories opened up this whole world for me of all these other people who I was able to relate to and enjoy having discussions with. For you, what was it like in that moment when you realised that you had that connection, when you realised that this whole world has opened up for you? What did that do for you inside yourself?

I have to say in hindsight, connecting the dots — so when I left Zim, I was probably twenty-two there, but I was a manager in a retail store managing even people old enough to be my parents. I had quite a senior position in society. And when I went to Cape Town, I couldn’t find that job, and I ended up baking bread initially. Then when I got into restaurants, I was this lowly guy waiting. Not even waiting. I was polishing cutlery in the back, I was washing plates in the back. I vividly remember the money was better than what I was getting before. But I had this fright of going inside the restaurant and seeing all these people, it was frightening because of the introvert in me.

I think I was put in the restaurant situation just to gather myself and to have confidence and to be able to speak to millions of people. Now I can stand up in front of crowds, I don’t have the fright. So I think for me getting into the restaurants was – because you have to communicate with people every day, it took me out of my shell. And when I realised this wine, this beverage – it wasn’t like one specific moment, but it’s just like gradual, gradual, gradual. You get someone who says “But, Tinashe, you really speak good about wine and you converse well. Why don’t you take this wine study?” And I’ll take the wide study. The more I started to learn more, the more I started to make in the restaurant. It just kept on, snowball, snowball, then working in different places, you learn new things, you get exposed to something else. I’ve always also had an entrepreneurial spirit to me, (and) it did kind of show in the end.

It’s quite beautiful. It’s really quite inspiring to hear your story as well. One of the things which I found very fascinating about Blind Ambition is that refugee stories don’t usually end up (the people) going into places like wine-tasting, like sommelier. Being a sommelier is not really something that you get to see refugees doing. What does it mean for you to be able to show the world that these kinds of jobs, these kinds of careers are possible for people who are seeking new lives in new countries?

It’s just the spirit of perseverance and the spirit of learning. In the end, obviously we left Zim because the country was in a bad state. But if I look at it in my own way, I can easily say it was a blessing in disguise, because I look at my compatriots who I went to school with who are still in Zim, and their lives haven’t changed for the better. It depends, it can be a push factor, it can be a pull factor.

But once you’re an immigrant or refugee, you get exposed to these things you might have never been exposed to. And my advice is just like when you get out of that comfort zone of your home, you know, explore a lot of things because you never know which one really sticks out. The opportunities come in a very subtle way. It’s just like how ambitious and how open minded you are. I started with guys six years ago, ten years ago, waiting tables, but their lives never changed, but they never realised why they were in that place, why they were in that situation. It’s something that I really reflected on, and I realised I could change my life for the better.

It’s quite fascinating to see how you enjoy the wine and get to taste the wine and see all the different profiles of the flavours. There is this real connection to to the land where the wine has come from. Can you talk about that connection to country, to land through wine for you, and what it needs to be a sommelier and tasting all those different profiles there?

That’s the beauty about wine because it’s one of the beverage – maybe coffee and tea, you can do that to an extent – but the vine is just so unique that because of the soil, the climate aspect, the winemaking style, you can literally put your wine to its origin, to its land to a very high degree. I don’t know any other beverage you can really do that with. For me, I think that is one of the intriguing parts. Here comes the challenging part when I was studying: I’d never been to Mosel Valley in Germany, I’d never been to Burgundy in France. But in your studies, you have to put yourself in that place. So wine has to test a sense of that place.

At that time, I was reading a book by Jonathan Nossiter who is also a former sommelier – when these things happen, it’s like these moments with change – he said wine of origin can also be where the wine is taking you, the memories are taking you. And it was so profound, because whenever I picked a glass of wine, because I wasn’t used to these blackcurrants, strawberries, cherries, when I smell the wine, I really smelled home, I really smelled the foods I grew up picking in the mountains with my grandfather, the mushrooms that they have. That was what I picked up first.

And usually what I would do in an exam out is say, okay, this is a red wine. If I smell this red wine and I smell maybe – there’s a Zimbabwean fruit called masau. If I smell masau, I will definitely know that’s a merlot. Then I’ll say okay, merlot in European terms is blackcurrants, is red cherries is whatever, berries, berries. Then I’ll pass my exam. For me, that notion really changed my wine enjoyment and the association that you could actually create your own wine of origin where the wine is taking you, rather than where the wine is coming from.

That’s really beautiful to hear you talk about it that way. I’m not a wine drinker myself, so getting to experience how you enjoy wine and how you experience wine through what you’re saying there and through the film was really quite powerful because it gets to show how you see the world in a different way. I’m curious, how do you exercise or train your palate and keep it in shape with the wine profiles?

I think staying sober and tasting quite a lot of wine is a training exercise. Like I say, wine is all about memory and reference. You’ve got to taste widely, you’ve got to taste every day. At the competition when we’re really preparing, we’re tasting at most fifty wines every day. You’re waking up wine, lunch wine, dinner wine. Until you sleep, you’re tasting wine for almost like a week and a half. It’s amazing because your palate adjusts itself, all your senses kind of zone in as well. So you can pick up the wine and pick up flavours and aromas.

I enjoy wine every day, I enjoy food and fruit. So that really trains your senses all the time. But there is no two ways around it, you have to taste as much as you can. And one of the difficult parts for our team was because we come from South Africa, Africa, which is itself, a wine-producing country. And if they import foreign wines, they’re either expensive, or the ones which are there are just generic. We really had to fork out to really buy all the wines from the world. In 2018, we got the help of Master of Wine Andrew Caillard who’s based in in Australia. He went to all his producers and like shipped almost one hundred wines from Australia to our base in France. And that’s how we could get access to wines of the world and it made our life easier.

Wow. That’s really exciting. Is there anything you have to avoid to keep your palate in shape? Like no smoking or no eating certain foods?

Chilli usually messes the palette. And flu is the worst nightmare. And every year one member of the team got attacked. 2017 I struggled a bit because (it was my) first time in Europe, you haven’t acclimatised. So that’s the one big challenge. I think having a cold is not the best for the sport. But some foods which are like really heavy, especially chilli, really disorientates your palette.

Rewatching those sequences where you are going through and testing the wines in the competition itself, what is playing in your mind as you’re rewatching those sequences?

I think that the first one is pure agony. There’s a clip when they’re announcing the results, and then they really focused on me. Because they always count from backwards. So it was number twenty-six, Italy. Then you’re like, “Oh yeah, so we’re not last.” And it was number twenty-five Zimbabwe, and I just sank, you know? We had so many… sorry, I’m even feeling it right now. (laughs)

We went there really confident and really excited and we were like, “this is the moment to make history, we’re going to be number one”, and it was really deflating. But then going back to the answers was like, “Guys, we only have ourselves to blame because we ended up confusing ourselves because we weren’t working as a team.” Our coach didn’t even have an understanding, Denis was doing his thing. It was just confusion at the tables. There wasn’t any teamwork.

Going back to the wines, we realised geez, Marlvin said it was a Chemin and everyone said no, and you know, it ends up [being a Chemin]. So it wasn’t the fact that we couldn’t pick the wines. It was just we didn’t work as a team. We didn’t work as a unit. And yeah, going back through it, you can (laughs)… regret. But the next competition was really fun. It was us working together. Everyone knew his role. You know, we got some of the wine. Some of the wines were just unlucky. If we had managed to get two or three wines, we could have easily been in the top five.

How has it changed with COVID? Is the competition still going on?

Yeah, last year they did. This year I think it’s still going on as well. And we might take another crack at it.

Fingers crossed.

But now we’re incorporating other people as well, other young guys who have never been there. I’ll probably take on a coaching role. But if need be, I can sit on the table.

I must say at the end of the film, I was so tied into it that I’m like I want to watch a whole series of this. I’d love to see each year we get to do the wine Olympics and stuff. I live in Western Australia, we have a booming wine population here down in Margaret River. So that connection to wine and the connection to the stories for me is there tangible, and that’s part of the legacy of seeing all these people consume wine, taste it and seeing all the joy on people’s faces, your faces, your team’s faces. I just wanted to be in the moment for so much longer. Thanks very much for sharing your story.

And you only have ninety minutes! (laughs)

I know! (laughs)

It always amazes me because I don’t know how many thousands of hours we shot and some moments don’t end up making it, some moments make it in. But those guys are really good at what they do to be able to squeeze all those hours of shooting in ninety minutes, and having a story that’s impactful is really great.

It’s a real treat. I really enjoyed it. I am going to be pushing people to go and see it in cinemas. I know that certainly here in Western Australia, people are gonna love it and go along. Thank you, Tinashe.

It’s a pleasure, Andrew.

Co-directors Warwick and Robert discuss their filmmaking process, the joys of wine, and what brought them on to the story of the Zimbabwe Wine Tasting team on the next page.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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