The South African Hospitality industry welcomes 97 new certified Junior Sommeliers

Thursday, 23 July, 2020
Sommeliers Academy
In an unprecedented partnership between the National Department of Tourism, the Tourism World Academy and Sommeliers Academy, a three-year program allowed 97 students to be certified Junior Sommeliers by the South African Sommeliers Association.

Three years ago, the National Department of Tourism identified the need to have more certified sommeliers on the floor in order to address the market’s expectations. After a long tender process, Sommeliers Academy was selected to offer the wine and service education for 300 young candidates from formerly disadvantaged communities.

This national project targeted the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the main tourist hubs of the country. Many of the students have never drunk wine before, and specific programmes have been designed to meet this challenge, extending the curriculum of each module so nobody would be left behind. Being inclusive was key to the programme.

On the wine side, three extended curriculum courses were offered to the aspiring sommeliers. South African Wine Level 1 and 2, and the International Wine level 3. Each of these classes lead to an individual certification, confirming their competency from Swartland Chenin to the Zweigelt from Austria.

On the service side, the students followed the Wine Ambassador certificate course from Sommeliers Academy and the Advanced Wine Service course, focussing on food pairing, cooking basics, five-star service, coffees, beers, sake, spirits and everything a sommelier needs to know to satisfy international patrons. These courses are part of the permanent Sommeliers Academy’s offering.

Finally, the remaining candidates have been following the SASA Junior Sommelier Course, a course that can only be taught by a handful of properly certified sommeliers in South Africa. Roxan Waldeck, Debi van Flymen CWM, Laurie Cooper, Higgo Jacobs, Eben Bezuidenhoud, Neil Tabraham, Jean Vincent Ridon, all working for Sommeliers Academy, crossed the country to teach the 10 groups with the skills required to sit the exams organised by SASA. They were assisted by Tayla Kirchner, Dube Tafadzwa, Bongani Ngwenya, Alison Sussex, Mike Buthelezi, Xolani Mancotywa, Marine Point, Chris de Klerk CWM, Welma Smith, Cathy Marston and Elizma Venter to build up and deliver these programs over the past three years. Who could have dreamt of a better team?

The very exclusive SASA Junior Sommelier qualification only yielded 20 sommeliers since 1996. This National Department of Tourism program allows 97 new emerging wine service professionals to proudly wear the SASA silver badge displaying their certified competency.

“It is a landmark in the world of sommeliers” declares Sommeliers Academy manager Jean Vincent Ridon. Ridon who seats at the ASI examination committee for the 61 countries who are members of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (International Sommeliers Association) says that “beside Italy, France and Japan, a graduation of that amplitude is not seen in the world of sommeliers, and it is definitely a first in Africa”.

In this troubled time for restaurants, it is a strong signal that the industry can reopen with increased skills later in the year, offering great opportunities for these qualified sommeliers. Gauteng students achieved 14 certifications, KwaZulu Natal earned 34 Junior sommeliers and 49 certified in the Western Cape.

After this impressive success, the sommeliers environment is changed forever in South Africa. Restaurants can now rely on properly qualified sommeliers in their team, offering an improved experience to their patrons while acting as ambassadors of our wine producers. These new sommeliers are now looking for restaurants or wine farms to express their talent. Sommeliers Academy can be contacted by prospective employers to facilitate interviews.

Let’s congratulate them and welcome these new sommeliers to the South African wine industry to make sure they will do their part to help the industry rebound once this dark prohibition era has come to an end.

Photo: SASA
Photo: SASA

Jean Vincent Ridon and Higgo Jacobs
Jean Vincent Ridon and Higgo Jacobs

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