José Santanita began his career in wine in 1991. He graduated from INFTUR (the Institute for Tourism Studies at the School of Hospitality in Lisbon) in 1993, becoming one of the most renowned professionals in the wine/gastronomy sector in Portugal. He has been a member of the Portuguese sommelier association since 1998 and is the current President of AEP – Associação dos Escanções de Portugal, the Portuguese sommelier association that was a founding member of ASI – as well as the director of its magazine called O Escanção.
In 2007, José Santanita was recognized as an educator sommelier by AEP, and in 2009, he won the Portuguese Revista de Vinhos sommelier contest, and was named the Best Sommelier of the Year in Portugal. He is involved in the organization of two pioneer wine education projects in Brazil: the Portugal Wine Expert and the Master of Port courses. In parallel, José has also created his own wine brand – SCANCIO (the word for sommelier, in latin).
We talked to him about the Portuguese sommelier association’s role in the founding of ASI in 1969, and about his vision of the sommelier trade in Portugal.
Q: This is your first mandate as president of the Portuguese sommelier association. What are your vision and plans for the future?
José: When I prepared the program with the new managing team of the Association, we understood that it was fundamental to focus on the wine education of the different wine professionals (waiters, shop attendants, supermarket staff, etc.) who sell and work with wine in Portugal.
There is a lot of tourism in our country, and the Association of Portuguese sommeliers has a duty to take on the social responsibility of educating professionals in Portugal. Our priority for this mandate is to create educational actions aimed at those who didn’t get a chance to attend a tourism school. We will also have actions directed to those who wish to specialize even more.
We are creating professional exchanges with other international sommelier associations to provide more opportunities for studying wine. The Portuguese Association of Sommeliers will thus prepare professionals in our country and offer them a truly professional level of skills.
We are also thinking of those who also want an innovative association that is ready for the future. The priority in this first year will be wine education on many levels. We are preparing a Wine Road Show in eleven Portuguese cities, and every year, we expect to be training about 250 professionals who may join the sommelier profession in the future.
Q: How do you see the development/promotion of the sommelier profession in Portugal and world?
José: The Association of sommeliers of Portugal was founded before I was born. I admire all the stories about the people who started this great adventure in Portugal. We are talking about a time when there was still a dictatorship. It is in this difficult context that the Portuguese Sommelier Association was born! It is amazing to think of the perseverance and the vision that our mentors had, at the time. Our generation cannot forget or ignore that history. The Association of Portuguese Sommelier will once again be getting the recognition it deserves as an active association at the international level, showing respect for its history and preparing for the future, all within the current vision of ASI.
I think the new generation of Portuguese sommeliers is to be congratulated. Today, we have several Portuguese professionals who play a very important role in the service of wine. I think we have had a great evolution in this profession. I remember that when I joined Vinicola Herdade do Esporão, in 2000, they were the first wine producer in Portugal to employ a sommelier. At that time, I was hearing that “a sommelier is a waiter specializing in drinks…” I have always said that sommeliers are essential professionals for any company in the wine sector. Today sommeliers are not limited to selling wines in restaurants. They appear in a wider range of companies: producers, importers, distributors, wine shops, restaurants, etc.
I am proud to see many young people taking on this wonderful profession and succeeding in the world. This success is largely due to the work that ASI has done over the last years with sommeliers from all over the world. It was remarkable to see how united people were at the last ASI General Assembly, and I think that if we focus on our ideals and goals, the future of our profession will be prosperous and more and more promising.