Get schooled in wine

Wednesday, 5 December, 2018, Trudie Webb (Editor)
The South African wine industry provides employment for 300 000+ people. It's a dynamic industry offering career opportunities many don't even know exist. There are roles to fulfill in the wine world beyond what happens in the vineyard and cellar. South Africa has excellent institutions and organizations providing great training for wine lovers hoping to make a career out of wine and hospitality.

Margi Biggs, covenor of the annual Business of Wine & Food Tourism Conference, once again highlighted the importance of wine tourism when calling for innovation in the sector. "There is hardly a wine producing country in the world that doesn’t offer some form of wine tourism. It’s a very competitive market" according to Biggs. It's a market we have all been exposed to at some point but that is often overlooked when thinking of a career in the wine industry. For many, working in wine only conjures up ideas of being a winemaker. There is a whole dynamic world of wine tourism that is part of the wine industry, needing passionate and motivated individuals to drive it.

Getting started

It's always good to go back to the basics and find your footing. Wines of South Africa (WOSA) provides a free online course to anyone with an interest in wine. It's a great start to learn and recap the basics. Six informative modules cover a variety of topics related to the South African wine industry, from history, varieties, wine styles and wine-growing areas to sustainable production and tourism. A certificate of completion will be issued at the end of the course. 

Another great introductory wine course is the South African Wine Course, presented by Cape Wine Academy. Now available as an online course, it will cover an introduction to wine, wine origins, and how to identify and compare wines through taste, sight and smell. You will receive a Cape Wine Academy certificate of achievement upon completion and be ready to take a more in-depth journey into South African wine with the Certificate Wine Course.

Candidates with their first job in hospitality will also find value through Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 1 with the International Wine Education Centre. It's an entry level qualification providing a straightforward introduction to wine. It is a great course for those wanting to know about wine styles, grape varieties, food & wine pairing and correct service and storage of wines. The course includes a tutored tasting of 8 wines and a food and wine matching exercise. After passing the exam you will receive a certificate and lapel pin. These lapel pins are addictive, once you have your first one you are going to want them all. For those with some wanderlust and dreams of exploring the wider wine world overseas, it's good to remember that a WSET qualification is internationally recognized. 

Now that you have your wine geek on, where to from here? It all depends on where exactly in the wine industry you want to be...

Can you say Sommelier (suhm-uh-l-yey)?

Luvo Ntezo, Head Sommelier at The One and Only Hotel in Cape Town gives an excellent description of what exactly it is to be a sommelier: "A sommelier is someone who has a vast understanding of wine, spirits, sometimes cigars and the ability to pair those with food, and to be able to, without arrogance, convey in the most simplistic way, this knowledge to diners. A sommelier is not a wine servant but an ambassador of the wine industry and the hospitality industry."

So what does Luvo's work entail? He spends much of his time exploring lesser-known wines, personally selecting new additions from some of the most talented winemakers in the Cape. All are handpicked discoveries adding another level of personal service to guests’ wine-tasting experience in the resort. South Africa's sommelier scene is booming with many trendy somms like Jospeh Dhafana from La Colombe, Tinashe Nyamudoka from Test Kitchen and Miguel Chan from Tsogo Sun making this a desirable career choice.

Sounds good, doesn't it? It's not quite as easy to get the title of Sommelier though. Think the equivalent of having your Honours degree in wine.

The South African Sommelier Association (SASA) aims to provide training and mentorship to guarantee the continuous development of professional standards and promote the service of wine in South Africa. They're a forum where sommeliers learn, share and collaborate with other somms. They also facilitate training and will put you on your path to become a certified sommelier.

SASA currently facilitates three levels of certification, namely:

  • Level 1 Junior Sommelier
  • Level 2 Sommelier
  • Level 3 Advanced Sommelier (Association de la Sommellerie Internationale Diploma)

The Sommeliers Academy was founded in 2016 to specifically address the needs of skills development and training in the hospitality industry. Managed by internationally recognised sommelier Jean Vincent Ridon, a team of 16 facilitators provide training in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, including for the National Department of Tourism.

Since being a sommelier is much more than just knowing wine, Sommeliers Academy trains toward Wine Ambassador, Coffee Ambassador, Beer Ambassador. Masterclasses toward Court of Master Sommeliers exams are offered, and a new partnership offer an official French sommelier certification in English with the University of Beaune in Burgundy (CFPPA Beaune).

What to pair your Sommelier training with: WSET Level 2, Level 3 and the WSET Diploma

Get down to business

Your parents want you to have a "real" career in something like business or accounting? Well then tell them that the South African wine and brandy industry makes a substantial contribution to the country’s GDP, to the tune of R36.1 billion. The perfect course to combine business and wine is the Wine Business Management course offered by the UCT Graduate School of Business.

The course gives students crucial market insight and the business acumen and leadership skills needed to maximise opportunities in the wine industry and make themselves and their organisations more competitive.

Set yourself apart from the rest in the hospitality industry

If you want to make your mark in the hospitality industry, you need to be a Jack of all Trades. It's a booming but competitive industry where you need to be versatile. Many top lodges are investing in wine training with independent wine consultants, Wine Wise. With a certified WSET educator in the team, they will ensure your staff have the necessary wine knowledge to create the best experience for your guests. 

Winetelligence is another company catering for the needs of the hospitality industry. Their Hospitality course is aimed to help your staff increase sales and add value to visitor experiences. They give your staff more confidence by providing them with knowledge of wine and food and wine pairing that will help them make better recommendations to guests. The course consists of 3 lectures of 2 hours each with food and wine pairing and practical demonstrations.

May you find your place in the dynamic industry of South African wine and help raise the profile of our wines and Brand SA.

We at are passionate about education and a few years back launched a video series called NOSE YOUR WINE - so take a look at these - they offer some very basic insights into What is Wine and also for the new Wine Waiter - Tips of the Trade 















Jean Vincent Ridon - Sommeliers Academy
Jean Vincent Ridon - Sommeliers Academy

WSET training
WSET training

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