South Africa is the centre of the Sommelier world for a week

Wednesday, 30 January, 2019
Jean Vincent Ridon
ASI, the International Sommeliers' Association, held its board meeting in South Africa for the first time in its 50-year history. The group also spent time here preparing for the Best Sommelier of the World to be held in Antwerp, Belgium between 10th and 15th March 2019.

The South African Sommeliers Association joined the ASI in 2015 and was delighted to assist with hosting the esteemed group. 

As the direct consequence, this week saw the presence of not less than 6 best sommeliers of the world visiting our vineyards. Serge Dubs, Philippe Faure Brac, Markus del Monego, Olivier Poussier, Andreas Larsson and current crown holder Arvid Rosengren were here to discuss the future of the sommellerie association, as well as the technical side to the world contest.
The board of the ASI, led by its Argentinian president Andres Rosberg, was hosted by Klein Constantia, and took the time to discover South African wines.
A very exciting program was offered to our international guests, with thanks to the SASA board, which was led by departing chair Higgo Jacobs and newly elected Barry Scholfield,

Some of the highlights were the presentation of the Old Vines Project, led by André Morgenthal; the Cabernet Collective from Stellenbosch; and the Chenin Association of SA, whose producers convinced the best palates of the planet to #drinkchenin!

The most exciting moment of all was a tasting of old vintages, organised by the board of SASA at the Twelve Apostles. For international palates it is of utmost importance to show an exciting track record, proving that South Africa is a great wine nation, and not just a new world wine producer.
Alongside Roland Peens, one of our local old vintage specialists, the ASI technical committee was offered some of our best vintage wines. Hazendal Cabernet 1959, Lanzerac Pinotage 1963, and Zonnebloem Cabernet 1962 were served alongside younger Kanonkop Pinotage 2001, Meerlust Rubicon 1991, Rustenberg Cabernet 1982 and Vergenoegd Cinsault 1990, showing the guests that South Africa has a good history of success.
Chris Williams, the winemaker of Meerlust, even brought a wine as elusive as Nessie, a bottle of never-produced again Meerlust Pinotage 1976!

The South African Sommelier Association started its international life in 2015 after having been accepted in this association representing 60 countries and more than 30000 sommeliers worldwide. Since then a lot has been achieved for SASA as it allowed our best sommeliers to compete internationally, with Gareth Ferreira making the headlines for finishing 15th at the Best Sommelier of the World in Mendoza, Argentina in 2016, followed by Jean Vincent Ridon competing in Vienna for the Best Sommelier of Europe and Africa in 2017. This year it will be the turn of Jo Wessels to represent the South Africa in Antwerp in March, hoping to perform even better than legendary Gareth.

Being a member of the ASI allows SASA members to present the most exclusive certification of the sommelier world: The ASI International Sommelier Diploma. The exam is organised on the same day for all exam centres around the world, so all sommelier face the same tasks and same questions. This year SASA will organise a session on the 4th of March 2019 and training is available through Sommeliers Academy or Somm Hospitality. Currently South Africa has only two graduated ASI Diploma sommeliers, viz Jean Vincent Ridon and Joakim Blackadder. 

SASA energy is getting good recognition among international institutions with former board members Jean Vincent Ridon and Higgo Jacobs sitting respectively on the examination committee and the status committee of the ASI.

Having these international sommeliers in South Africa is a real recognition for our local industry. Best Sommelier of the World 2007-2010 Andreas Larsson who was recently in South Africa to judge for the inaugural Spirits Trophy declared "South African wines are becoming the sommelier's choice in many markets because they show diversity, and identity".

President Rosberg was in South Africa for the first time and his words were displaying its excitement "at the overall great quality of the wines that he could taste in South Africa" and  he was very happy to see "sommeliers representing 5 continents to meet like a family on the soil of South Africa".

ASI is an NPO, registered in 1969, and its purpose is to unite and promote the sommeliers national associations. SASA was founded in 2010 to promote sommeliers in South Africa and soon became an important stakeholder of the South African wine industry. Barry Scholfield, the newly elected chairman, thanked Neil Grant and Higgo Jacobs for the work done since the founding of SASA and promised to continue the journey toward better recognition as key players in the hospitality and the wine industries.

The ASI Board at Klein Constantia
The ASI Board at Klein Constantia

Jean Vincent Ridon & Philippe Faure-Brac
Jean Vincent Ridon & Philippe Faure-Brac

The elusive Meerlust 1976 Pinotage
The elusive Meerlust 1976 Pinotage

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