Since the renaissance of the South African wine industry at the turn of the century, the industry has seen numerous changes and endured extreme hardships. But like a truly South African vine, it has persisted and, although there is still much to do to flourish, the offshoots of this tenacity are bearing fruit.
Although lockdown and its subsequent bans had a crippling effect on the industry, the hospitality industry is looking to see tourists return; restaurants fully booked, businesses booming, and staff excelling in their jobs and earning good wages. But the question is – where does one start?
This is where the South African Sommeliers Association (SASA) is leading, with a vision of elevating industry service standards from the bottom up and providing a platform for would-be sommeliers to launch their careers.
SASA offers a range of qualifications – from entry-level to extended, internationally-recognised – and exciting industry-related competitions to its members. The organisation is recognised internationally by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI), the global body responsible for sommelier organisations in over 60 countries worldwide.
With this clear vision in mind, SASA has announced the launch of its one-of-a-kind qualification for service industry professionals of any level: The Introductory Sommelier Certificate. This new qualification aims to empower the thousands of professionals working in the industry without any previous professional qualifications with basic wine and service certification.
“We aim to empower the talented professionals that dedicate themselves to the service of food and beverage,” says SASA chairperson Spencer Fondaumiere. “By providing accessible and affordable qualifications to all levels of experience and expertise, we contribute to the overall level of quality in the industry, uplifting the standard as a whole.”
The role of the sommelier certificate
Founded in 2010, SASA has since established itself as an integral part of the food and wine industry in South Africa. The movement was born when a group of like-minded individuals joined forces to form an association that would help uplift and promote the service of wine in South Africa.
“There are approximately 10 000 eateries in South Africa, and it is a fair estimation that at least 7 500 serve wine. The introductory certification gives the thousands of people who work in the industry without any formal service or wine qualifications an opportunity to offer more knowledgeable and professional service and to maximise their opportunities to earn,” says newly appointed SASA Head of Operations, Erica Taylor.
With this qualification, SASA anticipates an overall impact on the broader industry through ongoing membership engagement and the elevation of individuals on their journey in hospitality. “We envision this course to become the benchmark for starting as a sommelier,” Taylor continues. “Often, after completing one of our certifications, candidates come back for further engagement and qualifications. The ripple effect is that millions of people – whether local or international – experiencing South African hospitality in any establishment will receive proper basic wine service.”
SASA qualification: framework
The qualification framework was developed by some of the top minds in the sommelier industry in South Africa, ensuring robust and timely exam content. SASA facilitates the qualifications with courses taught by SASA service providers that teach students what is needed to succeed in the exams.
“The rising tide of more and more professionals getting certified will translate to an industry-wide increase in general service standards. Consequently, visitors and tourists that enjoy South African hospitality will learn more about and see more of the South African wine landscape while experiencing South African wines served at their very best,” says Spencer Fondaumiere.
Since its inception a decade ago, SASA has worked tirelessly to nurture and build partnerships with industry professionals and newcomers alike in an overall aim to elevate an entire industry to a culture of unsurpassed service excellence. Soon the next generation of qualified sommeliers will see a new harvest, and everyone involved will enjoy the fruit of their combined efforts.
Introductory Sommelier Certificate Cost: R500 pp to write exams at one of SASA’s nationwide venues. Introductory Sommelier Certificate Date: 31 March 2022. To sit the exams, attendees must be current members. The membership cost is R250/annually. For more information on SASA, go to https://www.sommeliers.org.za
WATCH: Wikus Human honoured as the new Best Sommelier in South Africa in 2021. He competed against semi-finalists Jean Vincent Ridon and Laurie Cooper on Wednesday, 15 September 2021, at Blaauwklippen Vineyards.