Raising the wine bar

Friday, 21 April, 2017
Judy Brower - wine.co.za
Education is always beneficial - and sommelier education is of course very good for the wine industry!

The French have always had wine in their blood and the South African Wine industry would not exist were it not for their influence in our history. We are fortunate to have their continued active and visible influence here in South Africa and we see great strides in various hospitality stakes by both South Africans and our French oenophiles.

Frenchman Jean Vincent Ridon recently passed his ASI Diploma (Association de la Sommellerie International) in Salzburg, Austria, and is one of only 16 in the world to qualify with a Gold distinction! He is the first in Africa to achieve the ASI qualification.
Jean Vincent is delighted: “I am so proud to the first sommelier in Africa to receive this international qualification. It is now my duty to help prepare SASA candidates to achieve this Diploma, and transfer my skills to the young upcoming generation of South African sommeliers.”

Jean Vincent Ridon has been living in South Africa for 21 years and is such a great ambassador for the sommelier community and specifically South African wine. He is a sommelier, educator, city winemaker, SASA (South African Sommelier Association) member (former board member), chef, man-about-town and of course founder and organiser of the South African Wine Tasting Competition held annually. He has taken Team South Africa to France every year for the last 4 years to compete in the World Blind Wine tasting championships.

JV will be competing for the top spot at the The A.S.I. Sommelier Championship 2017 in Vienna next month.

The 3 African representatives at the competition are:

  • South Africa – Jean-Vincent RIDON
  • Mauritius – Luciano Jeff THOMÉ
  • Morocco – Zacharia WAHBY

We wish them all the very best!

Marine Point is also French, and came to South Africa when she was just 22, and has been doing marketing for Cape Point Vineyards for 4 years now (no relation!). Marine recently spent four months studying full time in Bordeaux towards being a sommelier and passed the tough Worldsom France Diploma. The course covers Production, Viticulture, Oenology, Wine Tasting, Food and Wine pairing, Wine Sales and Sommellerie services.

Marine comments: "It was a really great learning lesson preparing and cementing my expertise as a world class Sommelier which is what I aspire to be! "L’art de la degustation''  (The art of wine tasting) was very important for all of us. To be trained and guided by four of the best sommeliers (in my opinion), paved the way for us to answer the question, “How good is this wine?” I would definitely use this platform to further my passion of becoming one of the best sommeliers in the world."

Marine is currently working on her WSET Level 3 course, having successfully completed Levels 1 and 2, and we wish her well for her continued studies.

Gareth Ferreira, (although not French), sets an outstanding example in the hospitality world, having just finished second in the London regional leg of Moët UK Sommelier of the Year, which qualified him to compete with the remaining 12 finalists for the title on the 17th of July at The Savoy Hotel in London.

Gareth took top honours in January 2016 at the inaugural Best Sommelier of South Africa competition, with Jean Vincent coming a close second. Gareth then took part in the World's Best Sommelier Competition in Mendoza, Argentina - the first time a South African competed. He did us proud and reached the semi-finals, achieving 15th place amongst a tough set of 60 competitors from 58 countries. This competition takes place only every three years and you can watch Gareth tasting wines blind at the 2016 World Champs HERE.

"Qualifying for the Semi-Final of the Best Sommelier of the World competition last year was certainly one of the highlights of my career, being able to represent my country on the world stage is something I will never forget and hopefully my achievements will inspire future representatives of South Africa in international competitions to believe that as South African Sommeliers we can compete at any level,'' - comments Gareth.

He is currently working in London as the Assistant Head Sommelier at the renowned 67 Pall Mall and is very excited about his recent achievements: "Qualifying for the UK Sommelier of the year finals is very exciting for me, London is a very tough region to get through with a very high standard, 2 years ago I failed to qualify and by doing so this year shows my progression over the last couple years, with 11 other very fine sommeliers beside me I hope to finish as high up the ladder as possible come July 17th and who knows? Dreams do come true sometimes."

How does all this help sommeliers and the wine and hospitality industry?

A good waiter, wine steward or sommelier can really enhance the experience of the guest in a restaurant or hotel, and of course a positive experience with any brand means that memorable moments are made, and the guests will remember the product/wine/experience and likely to be an ambassador for that brand. This is exactly what every winery wants!  A good wine steward or sommelier can often earn more from a tip from wine sales than the producer earns per bottle, so it really is in everyone's interest to improve service levels, and education is key.

Where can you go to learn more?

There are a number of good training courses both here and abroad and at wine.co.za we also have made a few basic videos on wine-making, tasting and service.

Watch our NOSE YOUR WINE videos

The Cape Wine Academy offers a range of sommelier courses, from the Introduction to Wine to the Cape Wine Master. Take a look at their Wine Service Course and their Cape Sommelier Course.
(addition to the article 23.04.2017):
In order to offer WSET accredited courses, a new company called Academy Of Wine & Spirits was established in 2015 by SA wine professionals partnering with the wine, spirits and education sectors. The Academy is a platform to teach SA and international wine and spirits by incorporating the educational needs of large corporates, and providing the skills, education and training for the tertiary, hospitality, retail and tourism sectors. The courses cater for professionals and enthusiasts, are open to the public and available across the country.  

The International Wine Education Centre was established in 2011 as the first Approved Programme Provider for the internationally-recognised Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) in Africa and offers internationally accredited courses in wine knowledge and appreciation. 

The South African Sommeliers Association is offering two official levels of certification, one as wine steward and one as sommelier. As from 2018 they will also offer an ASI International exam session.

The relatively new Sommeliers Academy, started up by a number of sommeliers, offers preparation for the SASA certification courses. 

The A.S.I. has been in operation since 1969 - operating in 58 countries across all continents. 
There are three main Continental Competitions which the ASI organise:

  • Americas
  • Europe & Africa ( this is the one JV is competing in)
  • Asia / Oceanic

The Court of Masters is also internationally recognised - with Higgo Jacobs (SASA current Chairman) one of the few South Africans to have this qualification, alongside Neil Grant, Miguel Chan, Francis Krone, Lloyd Jusa and Manuel Cabello (SASA board member)


More on the The A.S.I. Sommelier Championship 2017 in Vienna next month:

From May 8th to May 13th, 2017, the 38 best sommeliers from Europe and Africa will meet in Vienna – for a competition that offers insight into the skills of the exclusive top league of international sommeliers. Sommelier delegations from 59 nations are expected. The Austrian Sommelier Union is organising a diverse programme of wine tours and specialist commented tastings. The event is one that will not likely reoccur again soon – the last time Austria was the host venue for such a competition was in 1998. For visitors, a limited number of programme tickets, including those for single day attendance, will be available.

We wish Jean Vincent all the very best for the competition - and also urge all those young wine stewards, waiters and sommeliers to keep studying and learning, as they too could be competing in the World Champs some time in the future, and on the way, ensure that those experiencing wine with them will have an exceptional experience!


Judy Brower

Judy has been running wine.co.za alongside her hubby Kevin Kidson since 1996. She takes photos, attends functions, writes occasionally, sells wine.co.za services, is Mrs HR at the company, cooks yummy lunches from time to time and generally is the glue at wine.co.za

The ASI Pin
The ASI Pin

Higgo Jacobs & Gareth Ferreira at the World's Best Somm
Higgo Jacobs & Gareth Ferreira at the World's Best Somm

2016 Best Sommelier Competition - Winner Gareth Ferreira & Michele Astrom Chantome (2)
2016 Best Sommelier Competition - Winner Gareth Ferreira & Michele Astrom Chantome (2)

Jean Vincent Ridon
Jean Vincent Ridon

Marine Point receiving her Diploma
Marine Point receiving her Diploma

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