“Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake”, asks the beautiful Ilsa Lund in Rick’s Café. Casablanca is without a doubt one of the greatest films ever made — and perhaps the best drinks movie in history too — but what makes it remain a classic almost eighty years later? Ingrid Bergman’s stunning beauty; Humphrey Bogart’s spotless white jacket and black bow tie; and the endless flow of cocktails, champagne, brandy and bourbon certainly add glamour. Yet many other films have had similar ingredients and have been forgotten. Paradoxically, the answer lies in the song Sam finally plays: “moonlight and love songs / never out of date (…) / the fundamental things apply / as time goes by.”
A few weeks ago I had the chance to attend the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Union de la Sommellerie Française. One of the guests of honour was the Sommelier Henri Pioct, from Lyon, who was one of the founders of both the French and the International Sommelier Associations in 1969, and who served ASI, his national and his regional sommelier associations for forty years.
Having the privilege of being able to spend some time with him, I asked him what objectives they originally had in mind when they founded ASI. His answer was enlightening. He mentioned they had three major goals: the development of the Sommelier, both in terms of its education and its role in gastronomy; the promotion of this profession, so that consumers could understand it better and restaurant and hotel managers would see that hiring a sommelier was an investment versus an expense; and the defense of viticulture and the lifestyle which it implied.
Serving colleagues; serving customers and employers; and serving producers while promoting a healthy way of life. This is what this is all about. What is Sommellerie, if not love and service? This fundamental vision, never out of date, which Mr Pioct and the other founding fathers of Sommellerie shared fifty years ago, is still incredibly powerful today, and will drive ASI for the fifty years to come – for as the song goes, “the world will always welcome lovers / as time goes by.”