See Yourself As The Next Top Sommelier In Africa? The World? Here’s How!
Not since 1994 has there been a more exciting time to be in the South African wine industry. With arguably two of the best vintages in recorded history harvested in less than a decade, many of those wines still in barrel, a thriving community of visionary winemakers constantly pushing the boundaries of excellence and an equally flourishing community of young sommeliers defining the modern face of African wine service.
With every South African wine that makes the headlines, with every new sommelier putting their stamp on a wine program, we set the bar a little higher and it becomes harder and harder to compete in this industry without the services of a qualified professional. Now is the time to make a career for yourself!
What You Need To Know
More than three years ago the South African Sommelier Association (SASA) set out with the goal of creating the first internationally recognised Sommelier Accreditation Program in Africa. With the help of renowned, industry tested and internationally trained sommeliers we started the long journey of writing our own syllabus and becoming a full member of The Association de la Sommellerie Internationale.
Starting from the ground up we looked at industry stalwarts like The Court of Master Sommeliers, The Association de la Sommellerie Internationale and The Wine and Spirits Education trust. We combined our own experience, gained from years of actively working on the floor, we argued furiously, always conscious of respecting tradition and were finally left with a concise syllabus that respects the pasts while looking to the future and preparing local sommeliers to take on the best in the world in the only internationally recognized sommelier certification in South Africa.
Once we felt we had set the standard we accredited two world class program providers (APP’s), Somm 101 and The Sommeliers Academy, armed them with the tools they needed and passed on the responsibility to train the next generation, leaving SASA free to monitor, moderate, constantly improve the syllabus and finally assess the candidates trained by these institutions. Separating ourselves from commercial activities and allowing us to always remain dedicated to the discipline, art and love of Wine and Spirits.
How It Works
SASA Sets the Standards, creates the syllabus and supplies the APP’s with the learning outcome. The APP’s then set their course schedule for the year, train the students, choosing to either include exam fees in the cost or allowing candidates to book their own exams at their convenience.
Candidates with previous experience in sommellerie or trained by other institutions are obviously welcome to sit the exams without attending an APP course.
Every journey starts with an end in mind and SASA currently provides three levels of certification, namely:
- Level 1 Junior Sommelier
- Level 2 Sommelier
- Level 3 Advanced Sommelier (Association de la Sommellerie Internationale Diploma)
Courses are run at regular intervals by our approved program providers (APP’s) with an annual schedule of exams invigilated by SASA that can be found on the facebook pages and websites of both SASA and our APP’s.
Somm 101 by Somm Hospitality Enterprises
Headed by Barry Scholfield, SASA L2, and Joakim Blackadder Dip. WSET & Dip. ASI with Isabella Immenkamp, Esmé Groenewald and wine education partner Cathy Marston Dip. WSET from the International Wine Education Centre.
Born out of a passion for hospitality, food, wine and all things artisanally crafted, four friends created Somm Hospitality Enterprises. A young, dynamic company with a proven track record and a portfolio of business interests ranging from Sommelier Focused Hospitality Training to Specialised Hospitality Consultation and an increasing range of Tastings, Competitions, Events and Retail interests.
From Wine Service 101 to ASI diploma, Somm 101 provides success through education.
The Sommeliers Academy
The Sommeliers Academy was created 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 are training in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, including for the National Department of Tourism.
Sommeliers Academy prepares for the SASA Junior Sommelier and SASA Sommelier, and is offering a curriculum toward ASI International Sommelier Diploma. Furthermore, Sommeliers Academy teams with IWEC to offer WSET trainings, and has developed its proprietary wine education system with Wines of South Africa certificate, and Wine Advanced Certificate. 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)
SASA Junior Sommelier COURSE Level 1
SASA’s Junior Sommelier Course is the first tier out of three examination levels endorsed by SASA with the aim to standardize wine service within the South African hospitality field. The course covers the basic elements of wine service that is expected to be handled comfortably by hospitality professionals according to international standards, including; preparations for service, correct wine service procedures and good practices, wine faults, client interaction, break-down and preservation after service. The course is taught over a minimum period of two days, followed by a day of examination not necessarily in combination with the course dates.
It is recommended that the students have previous front-of-house experience together with a minimum theoretical knowledge in line with WSET Level 2 in order to benefit fully from the course and to be able to write the theory part of the examination.
SASA Junior Sommelier EXAMINATION Level 1
The examination consists of two sections, firstly a closed book theory test with multiple choice questions covering basic wine knowledge not covered in SASA’s Junior Sommelier course, as well as wine service questions covered in the course. The theory test is followed by a practical dining room test in the form of a scenario in which the candidate will be tasked to show his/her ability to handle table setup and table service, basic but accurate wine service and the communicative accuracy that is expected with any type of guest within a hospitality context. The SASA Junior Sommelier Examination is open for all SASA members to sit without any prerequisites, e.g. the SASA courses or any other relevant wine qualification, under the condition that the member has, in his/her own opinion, accumulated enough experience elsewhere in order to attempt the examination.
SASA Sommelier COURSE Level 2
The training programme provides foundational training for young sommeliers and sommeliers to-be. The course has been constructed, and is taught, by professional members of SASA over a minimum period of four days covering the practical aspects of the trade as well as the managerial back-of-house elements.
It is recommended that the students have previous beverage training and experience together with a minimum theoretical knowledge in line with WSET Level 3, coupled with a minimum of 2 years front-of-house experience in order to benefit fully from the course. Topics include wine service training, glassware and equipment, wine storage, stock management, wine faults, wine list construction, food and wine in combination.
SASA Sommelier EXAMINATION Level 2
The examination covers theory, blind tasting and practical dining room work. The examination may include subjects not covered in the SASA Sommelier Course and will change from time to time. The candidate is required to showcase the knowledge and expertise that is to be expected from a professional sommelier, and must successfully pass all three sections in order to be awarded the title of SASA Sommelier. It is recommended that the candidate has a theoretical level of understanding in line with WSET Level 3 or the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier. The SASA Sommelier examination is open to all SASA members to sit without any prerequisites, under the condition that the member has, in his/her own opinion, accumulated enough experience to attempt the examination.
SASA Advanced Sommelier EXAMINATION Level 3
This is the highest level currently endorsed by SASA, formed around self-studied with supportive mentoring from senior SASA members. It is an outcome-based level were the only requirement is to pass the examination set by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI). The examination is only held once a year and covers a practical dining room scenario, a blind tasting and a theory test, potentially encompassing the whole world of wine and all other beverages such as spirits, cocktails, teas, coffee, sake, cigars, cheese, etc. A theory level in line with WSET Level 4 or the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier Certificate is to be expected. This examination is held annually in South Africa in February with successful candidates awarded the ASI International Sommelier Diploma.
Both the Level 1 and Level 2 courses can be taken through our approved program providers at various times of the year with examinations regularly vacillated by SASA and provide the foundation on which to build towards
Is WSET a Sommelier Qualification?
The short answer is ‘no’. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) is the world’s largest provider of wine and spirits courses which are the industry standard in more than 70 countries with nearly 100,000 people sitting a WSET exam in the last 12 months alone. Passing a WSET qualification is strongly advised for all aspiring sommeliers because it teaches wine and spirits knowledge in an orderly, up-to-date and structured way. However, WSET does not teach wine service, so although most top sommeliers have passed WSET at some level, you will still need to study with one of sommelier APPs in order to pass your ASI qualifications. WSET courses in Africa are provided by WSET Educator of the Year and Master of Wine student Cathy Marston, who operates the International Wine Education Centre (IWEC) offering courses at all levels on a regular basis around the country. Please see www.thewinecentre.co.za for more information.