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ASI 2021: The Year of the Sommelier

ASI made a bold statement last year. 2021 was to be the “Year of the Sommelier”.
In hindsight, suggesting a year plagued with the continued unsureness of a global pandemic to be our year might have been brash. While COVID placed continued strain on our industry, sommeliers around the globe proved their resolve and passion for their work. This was exemplified in November at our ASI Contest Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa in Cyprus, as volunteer sommeliers from around the world, joined forces with our outstanding hosts in Cyprus to pull off a magical event. William Wouters, ASI President says “fittingly, at this spectacular contest an unheralded candidate, Salvatore Castano from Italy, emerged not only as a champion but proved humility, and charm still has a place on the top of the winner’s podium.”

Over the past year the administration of ASI has been tasked with building a stronger community and an association that places more emphasis on education and communication.

On the education side this was highlighted by the launch of our ASI Guidelines. These guidelines took an immense amount of work and cooperation from our Sommelier Contests, Education and Exam Committees.  Yet, their hard work and fortitude resulted in a base document that will provide the foundations of knowledge for sommeliers across the globe. According to ASI Education Committee Director, Sören Polonius “After more than two years of work, involving more than 20 persons worldwide. We have a tool, a tool that will help sommeliers to train and prepare themselves for exams and competitions, becoming a better person in their profession. It will also serve as guidelines for our evaluators, helping them assess exams and competitions in an uniform way, globally.

For a very long time we have seen sommeliers groping in the darkness, trying to second-guess what the evaluators wanted to see from them. By releasing the guidelines, we have been given the chance to all sommeliers around the world, to even the scores amongst the ranks and making exams and competitions fairer.

We have made a global community more inclusive, less exclusive, letting everyone on the train. With this work being done I am confident, seeing a new dawn for our profession.

I am very excited and look forward to what the future has in hold for us, as this will be a living document, with possibilities to develop further and expand. I owe great gratitude to a lot of people for making this happen, and I believe that I have quite a few sommeliers behind me when I say THANK YOU to all of the people involved in this long running project. Christmas came early this year.”

This past month, ASI took a major step forward to bring those guidelines to life, by producing tutorial videos. ASI Deputy Secretary General, Julie Dupouy, demonstrated the various service skills showcased in the video series. She says “I believe the creation of the new ASI tutorial videos is incredibly important for the Sommeliers community. Correct demonstration and explanation of these fundamental processes serve to build confidence in both budding and established Sommeliers. It is this confidence, table side which leads to a positive and memorable experience for both guests and the sommeliers”.

ASI also launched, two new certifications which will serve as steps along a path for our young sommeliers as they work to towards the prestigious ASI Diploma. The ASI Certification 1 assesses competencies covering the accepted international knowledge an assistant sommelier requires to perform her/his duties appropriately, while attaining ASI Certification 2 represents demonstrates the competencies of a sommelier. Of the new certifications, ASI Exam Committee Director Giuseppe Vaccarini says “ASI is the only international association that possesses the know-how of the sommelier and possesses all the tools to communicate the profession. The two new certifications are aimed at young people, students and those who intend to enter the profession. The goal is to make them passionate by offering them the tools to enter the world of sommeliers right away and to open the doors to a fantastic career.”

Another major accomplishment was the launch of ASI Bootcamp in Warsaw in the September. The monumental task of creating a top level, intensive training program for sommeliers fell on the able shoulders of ASI Vice-President Europe Piotr Kamecki and Maria Laura Ortiz of Argentina. After months of preparation, a contingent of more than 40 top sommeliers from across Europe and Africa came together for more than two days of intensive training. Master Classes and Partner Master Classes were taught by a who’s who of the wine world including Miguel Torres Jr. and Harry Symington along with a top lineup of ASI instructors including Raimonds Tomson (Latvia), Hee Sung Park (South Korea), Sören Polonius (Sweden), Heidi Mäkinen MW (Finland), Marc Almert (Germany), Piotr Pietras MS (Poland), Veronique Rivest (Canada), Mattia Antonio Cianca (Italy), and Fabrice Sommier (France).

According to Kamecki “ASI Bootcamps provide a training ground for our top sommeliers, and especially those that aspire to compete at the highest level. With Warsaw now behind us, ASI looks forward to its next Bootcamp in Asia, in 2022 and the Americas in 2023.”

This past year ASI also launched new communications strategies focused on building a community of sommeliers and partners. ASI was tasked with placing sommeliers on the same stage as the great winemakers, wine communicators and educators of the world. ASI accomplished this and more through newsletters, website content, panel discussions and social media efforts. Expanded efforts in all areas saw key performance targets.

While the new ASI board seeks to measure it success by key deliverables, ASI President William Wouters says “we also have to measure our success by our impact on our community. This past year we’ve embraced the diversity of our sommelier world and listened to the needs of our individual associations. The result has been an ASI culture shift. As we celebrate during the holiday season with our families, remember we as a sommelier community are also a family. Let’s continue to support each other grow and embrace the diversity of all our members.”

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