The life of an elite sommelier is not unlike that of an athlete with Olympic dreams. Olympians live by the motto “faster, higher, stronger” in relation to their athletic prowess. Top sommeliers share a similar dedication to be more knowledgeable, more professional and more service oriented. We ask a selection of ASI BOOTCAMP attendees to tell us who they are and why they are striving to be the best sommeliers they can be.
ASI: Tell us a little about your career path. How did you start in the restaurant/hospitality world? Why did you choose to become a sommelier?
José Luis Fernandez (Canada): My first job when I first moved to the United States, in NYC, was as a busser/assistant server at a fine dining restaurant. They had a serious wine program and there was a team of sommeliers at the restaurant, and I noticed that they had the coolest job in the restaurant, in my opinion, and they also had the most fun during service.
That is what sparked my interest in becoming a sommelier right away. Once my English was a bit better, I offered myself to help them clean and organize the wine cellar. That is how everything started for me.
Adriaan Visser (Netherlands): It all started working part time in a hotel during high school. I loved working in hospitality and decided to study hotel management after high school. Here I got more in touch with wine and learned about gastronomy. During my first internship I ended up assisting the sommelier and I was hooked!
Alexandra Aberg (Norway): I was in my early twenties when I started studying to become an computer engineer when I started working extra in a bar. I realised that this was fun, working service and with people and with my energy it made sense that this was what I should do and not sitting at an office. So I quit school and started working fulltime in restaurants as a waiter and bartender. Thought in a way that this would just be for a while, a few years maximum and as long as I enjoy doing it, but now I´m in my mid thirties and still loving it. I always had an interest for wine but I didn’t have a plan to become a sommelier, but my boss at the time gave me the opportunity to take the education to become a Sommelier and I thought “this could be fun” so I took the chance I got, did my very best with it and I passed my exam and can now call myself a Sommelier with pride. I don’t regret a second of taking that choice and am grateful for the opportunity my boss gave me at the time.
Magdalena Sleziak (Poland): I found my passion in wines and hospitality after I had to start my first job in life. It was at a French Bistro in Cracow called Bistro Charlotte. There I learned basics on wine service, food service and how restaurant works in general. I found great pleasure in how wine complements any occasion as well had a chance to see some typical French food pairings. After starting my studies in business and management one of Charlottes guest came to me and told about a WSET Sommelier School in Cracow lead by Monika Bielka – Vescovi. At the time I had no idea one can get professional education as sommelier. So I took a WSET Level 2 course in 2016 and started working in Enoteka Pergamin. Here I have a chance to work with not only wine but also wide selection of cigars, spirits and polish local food. I did not finish my studies, I discovered great passion about wines and hospitality. I have worked in Enoteka since 2016 and continued Wine and Spirit Education Trust studies path. At the moment I am finishing my Diploma level 4 in Wines.
Maryna Revkova (Ukraine): My first experience with hospitality was at 14. It was the best way to earn some money on the summer holidays. And then I went to university and started my professional career in Human Resources. But then, 3,5 years ago, I attended my first wine tasting and fall in love with wine. It became obvious that this was my predestinated path. I love this profession because you always have opportunities to develop your brain with wide-ranging subjects such as geography, chemistry, geology, foreign languages and taste. This is one of the few professions where you can taste History on your own.
Tawanda Marume (Zimbabwe): My first role in the wine industry was a tasting room assistant at Neethlingshof Wine Estate where I conducted wine tastings and cellar tours. I joined Wine Concepts on Kloof, a boutique wine store in Cape Town as assistant shop manager. We tasted a lot of wines during that time and under the mentorship of Sue Proudfoot my knowledge of wine grew immensely. It was during this time that I started my career as a sommelier. I was offered a role as a junior sommelier at La Colombe restaurant. At the time my wine knowledge was growing, I needed food knowledge as I often found it hard to recommend a perfect pairing for our clients in Wine Concepts when they would tell me a dish they are making or they bought and needed my wine recommendation. In Zimbabwe we grew up with very basic food, mostly pap and stew so I did not know a lot of dishes. In 2015 I joined Singita Grumeti reserves as their head sommelier in charge of 6 lodges. After 2 years I moved back to Cape Town and joined Rust en Vrede restaurant before moving to Johannesburg in 2018 to start my own wine agency, Expression Wines Africa.
ASI: To be nominated to attend Bootcamp you have proven your dedication to sommellerie. Do you have specific goals or accomplishments that you would still like to achieve (for example win your country’s sommelier contest, win a world or continental contest, become an MS, or become an ASI Diploma holder)?
José Luis Fernandez (Canada): Great question. I do want to win the title of the Best Sommelier of Canada, I have been working and studying hard for it. Everything else that comes after that is a bonus, but yes, winning a continental and world competition sounds fantastic. I am also working on becoming a master sommelier, and I would love the opportunity to become an ASI diploma holder too.
Adriaan Visser (Netherlands): I have multiple goals in the sommellerie, first I am studying for the MS title. My goal is to win the national contest in the Netherlands and compete in the international contests. The other goal is to open my own restaurant!
Alexandra Aberg (Norway): Well, I am a very competitive person and I do like to win so to win a championship would be amazing to be honest. But first I feel I need to fill up my backpack a bit more with knowledge and experience. The level in the Norwegian Championship is very high so I have a small road ahead to catch up with the elite.
Magdalena Sleziak (Poland): Definitely next step for me is to pass Diploma and become an ASI Diploma holder. I always take my dreams step by step. Thinking about my goals I like to take them step by step. Because I have to take care about myself I work a lot, but that makes me very motivated. Sometimes having less time you can accomplish more. I find very educating as well travelling to wineries, meeting winemakers and learning there incredible history. Working as flying winemakers or someone helping in marketing of winery is in my interest as well. By the end of the road I would love to spend my time travelling around the world doing trainings for other sommeliers and all hospitality industry workers. To share my passion and knowledge as well as meeting people all over the world would be my dreams come true.
Maryna Revkova (Ukraine): After only 6 months as a sommelier, I became Vice-Champion of “The First Women’s Cup Sommeliers International” and a year later, Vice-Champion of “The best sommelier of Ukraine”. Sadly, the COVID put all competitions on hold for several months. It is only earlier this year that I was able to resume with competitions and exams and passed the ASI Diploma. The next step for me will be in October when I will take my WSET 3. I have also in mind to go for the Master Sommelier exams, but it was difficult this year due to travel restrictions.
Tawanda Marume (Zimbabwe): I would like to fly our country’s flag high and win the Best Sommelier of the world. I have also set my eyes on MS and in the coming year, ASI Diploma. The biggest achievement for me would be to help with the training and development of a wine culture in Zimbabwe. The founding statement of our company is ‘wine tastes better when you understand it’ and this is what we are working towards, wine education for people to put wine into context for better enjoyment.
ASI: What does it mean to you to be selected to attend Bootcamp? How do you think it will help you accomplish your goals?
José Luis Fernandez (Canada): It means so much to me, the fact that I was chosen over so many other equally or more deserving candidates, makes me feel humbled by it. I have never attended this type of Bootcamp, but I am more than sure that everything that I do to improve as a person and as a wine professional, is going to help me immensely in achieving my short and long-term goals.
Adriaan Visser (Netherlands): Bootcamp is a great training and motivation to keep on pushing. To be in the Bootcamp with so many like-minded sommeliers and amazing lecturers is a great push for me. The Bootcamp will improve my skills and knowledge and this will help me to become a better sommelier, in the restaurant for my guests, for my quest for the Master Sommelier title and the contests!
Alexandra Aberg (Norway): First of all, I feel grateful for the opportunity Norsk Vinkelnerförening gave me by nominating me of all people and second, excitement. It is an exciting event and I believe I will learn much from the ones hosting us and from the other participants. I believe this will make me a better Sommelier in both my working life and in the next championship I will participate in. Im really looking forward to this event and all the experience and knowledge I got to fill up my backpack with. So thank you for selecting me to participate in ASI Bootcamp, this will be fun!
Magdalena Sleziak (Poland): Being selected to attend Bootcamp is incredible opportunity for me as a young sommelier. I feel noticed by Polish Sommelier Association. Honestly saying it is a motivation for me to start competing in country’s sommelier contest. I take it as great opportunity to learn and grow not only as a sommelier but also as a person that chose its passion as a career.
Maryna Revkova (Ukraine): I am very thankful to my Ukrainian association for presenting me for this bootcamp and to ASI for selecting me. This means a lot to me as it shows I have the trust from my peers. I am also very much looking forward to exchange with the best sommeliers and the best trainers as my ultimate objective is to win an international competition. This bootcamp is a unique opportunity to learn and develop, and I will certainly make I will be standing up to the opportunity that has been offered to me.
Tawanda Marume (Zimbabwe): This is a huge honor for me, our association and country. It is a great opportunity to learn from the best in the industry and to learn other wine cultures. We are a new wine drinking society so this will be a great opportunity to be guided by the experienced, something I will take back and share with our association, friends and family. Surrounded by professionals from all over the world, there is no end to what one can learn and it is an experience of a lifetime.