Chairman’s Speech – L’Avenir Gala Dinner

Rootstock Session Gala Dinner Speach

In an article published in Business Day and Winemag online platforms in February this year Michael Fridjon asks the question: “Is the SA Sommelier movement losing momentum?”

Michael actually follows on with content in the article that compliments individual and industry efforts and takes a welcome and justified stab (and not for the first time) at distributorcontrolled wine lists, loss of creativity through listing fees and restaurant owners unwillingness to hand the control of their wine programs over to educated, well imbursed wine professionals; I.E. Sommeliers.

We are grateful when someone of Michael’s calibre brings our profession to his audience, and I personally thought that the article mostly had valid points.

But that question in the title line caught my (and I’m sure many others’) attention.

I believe that the answer to this question is NO

If SASA was a wine, it would be like a very young Chenin made from young vines. It’s planted in a promising site and it’s being received well by the industry, but it’s still getting used to its environment, trying to get its roots in deeper (in sometimes hostile soils), and therefore hasn’t reached its full potential.

We have achieved lots in recent years. I would like to share some of these successes:

Our SASA courses are now well established, offering mentorship and certification for sommeliers and wine stewards across 3 different levels. Two recognised academies in the form of SOMM and the Sommelier Academy are licenced to offer SASA courses to students. Made possible by funding from the NDT, the Sommelier Academy has embarked on a project to train and qualify 300 junior sommeliers over the next 3 years.

We are now a full member of the Association de La Sommelier International (ASI). This allows us to compete on the international stage and also offer internationally recognised sommelier certification in SA. I am on a sub-committee of the ASI. We are working towards establishing a regional African chapter in the ASI, and we are shortlisted to host a large ASI event in Cape Town in the nearby future.

We have recently staged 2 very successful competitions for young sommeliers working in SA. The Moët & Chandon / SASA Best Young Sommelier of South Africa (won by Wikus Human, who will compete in SA’s Best Sommelier competition this year); and the Gaggenau Sommelier Awards (won by Joakim Blackadder who is off to Beijing to compete with other winners). Both these competitions are confirmed to continue in the future.

In September this year, we will stage the Best Sommelier of South Africa competition for the second time. The winner will represent us in Antwerp next year in the world championships. Most will recall our success with Gareth Ferreira’s performance at the previous showing in 2016.

We will once again be involved at Cape Wine, including an exciting official calendar event in collaboration with the Chenin Blanc association.

We now employ 2 part time people devoted to driving SASA’s goals and tasks

A PR company to drive further awareness of the association and increase membership has been hired

We are already seeing an increase in membership, also with the help of an improved new website. Watch this space for more interactive online improvements and payment portal

And, of course, our well attended monthly tastings offer education and networking for our

growing membership base

If you had told the founding members back in 2010 when this thing started around a dinner table in Neil Grant’s house that the sommelier fraternity would have achieved all of this in 8 years, I don’t think any of us would have betted on that as an outcome. We didn’t set up for failure of course, but we just wanted to get something going as a platform.

The SASA Board members are custodians of this organisation. Not owners. Not beneficiaries. It is a member driven organisation. I am the only founding member still remaining on the board after 8 years. This shows that SASA gets in new energy and direction on a regular basis. Some of the founding members and previous board members are here tonight.

At some point they may come back to the board and at some point we will entirely hand over this custodianship to the next generation of SA sommeliers. Such is the workings of an NPO and a democratic organisation. It is a group effort.

You can all be very proud of your organisation. I certainly am.

I would like to, once again, encourage all members of all membership types to get involved, make suggestions, make yourselves available, and keep us moving forward.

Thank you to all our sponsors for tonight:

L’Avenir, Stir Food, Gavin Withers Photography, Stellies Beer, Geometric Gin, DowningsandDurr Bottling

Thank you to the wine producers for the wonderful wines sponsored for tonight:

Almenkerk, De Wetshof, Klein Constantia, KWV,Nederburg,Negrar,Vilafonte,Wine Cellar (Drappier),L’Ormarins, Bouchard Finlayson, Creation, Fable andMulderbosch

Thank you to SASA Vice-President, David Clark

Thank you to Event Organiser, Elsa Fourie

Notes to editor: SASA (or the South African Sommelier Association) is an organisation established in 2011 as a not for profit organisation with the goal to further the profession of sommeliers, set standards for excellence in the service of wine and other beverages in the South African hospitality industry, promote the professional interests of our members, and to be a platform for a fraternity of sommeliers to interact with each other and connect with international somms.

We are a membership driven organisation. We do not receive grants from government or from any other industry bodies. We do not receive any corporate sponsorships other than the membership fees for businesses, which is a fixed annual rate for all. We hold bi-annual AGM’s where we elect the executive, or board members from our membership base. The board (including the chairpersons) do not receive any remuneration for our efforts and time put in. We do invoice for services rendered when we stage events / organise competitions / teach courses. This is usually well below industry related rates.

~ Higgo Jacobs

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