The New Generation of Wine Ambassador

Tuesday, 14 May, 2019
Sommeliers Academy, Roxan Waldeck
Wine education in South Africa is on the rise. Three hundred aspiring young adults across the country are embarking on a unique journey to become the next generation of wine ambassadors and sommeliers.

Started in May 2017, the programme recruits young people from disadvantaged areas throughout the Western Cape and as far up as Kwazulu-Natal. The students are being trained in Stellenbosch, Paarl, Robertson, Johannesburg, Durban and Mkuze. All the students have Matric certificates and now have the opportunity to study further and develop new skills.

The National Department of Tourism had issued a tender won by Tourism World Academy (TWA) in partnership with the Sommeliers Academy. TWA delivers three modules by the Culture, Art, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority (CATSETHA), while the Sommeliers Academy delivers six proprietary modules.

The programme consists of nine modules, however, technically speaking, each module is four months long: One month of theory studies and three months for practicals in the workplace where the students implement and develop what they have learned. The classes are held five days a week at a suitable venue for the students’ convenience. There are daily tests with an exam at the end of each module. After completing all modules, the students will sit a tough exam to qualify as certified South African Sommelier Association (SASA) Junior Sommeliers. The achievement is recognised by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) in 60 countries worldwide.

Apart from South African wines, wine regions and winemaking, the students cover bar and customer management training. With a facilitator, they visit surrounding wineries and have the opportunity to meet the people behind the label. Of course, tasting wine is part of the learning process and they are introduced to tasting techniques in virtually  the same way that experienced sommeliers do. Students learn how to pour and decant wine, the importance of wine temperature and cellar management. Great emphasis is placed on guest interaction and correct Five Star service etiquette. Students discover international wine regions and international wine laws, with the opportunity to taste the wines of origin and do analytical food and wine pairing. At present, they are studying spirits and beer, as well as teas, coffees and cheeses.

From an economic point of view, the goal is to enrich and develop new wine ambassadors in a thriving tourism and hospitality industry. We live in a country where the search for employment may be long and tough. We also live in a country that not only welcomes international visitors, but offers a kaleidoscope of unforgettable experiences. This is what makes the SASA Junior Sommelier Certificate Course such an exciting project. From a social point of view, the programme is an extension of the South African wine industry collective. It is creating a wave of responsible wine consumers that are educated in their activities and who have the potential to represent a country that quite honestly, is presently not in good standing where alcohol is concerned. Now, different conversations can be had. It is imperative that we put in place the right people to set the right example of what wine culture should be.

I have observed a good portion of these young adults, many of whom have family responsibilities and who desire a new, prosperous future. I have seen students transformed within just a few months of participating in this programme. It makes a powerful statement about social paradigms as well as cultural beliefs. I share some of the same experiences of my former years, with these students. For me, facilitating this course has cracked open a new narrative for how developing communities regard wine. It also births the new belief that positive change is not only possible, but happening.

With a handful of knowledgeable and enthusiastic facilitators, I am honored to be a part of the training process. It is as thrilling as it is rewarding to see young minds change with new perspectives of what the possibilities are, new positive ideas for their future - and that they are in control of it all.

Durban Students
Durban Students

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