Interview with Giuseppe Vaccarini MSM®, President of the ASPI

29 Jun 2019

Q: How many members does the ASPI have?

The current complex situation of the sommelier in Italy is the consequence of the anomalous development that it has had for over 50 years, promoted by other associations, which “sell” the title of sommelier and do little or nothing for the development of the profession because they focus on an audience of enthusiasts. Fortunately, this trend is now balanced by ASPI, founded in 2007, which started an intense training activity for young people.

As confirmation of the above, ASPI has about 600 members, constantly growing, divided between the various categories: Aspiring Sommelier, Mastro Coppiere, Sommelier.

Among the main objectives of ASPI is to train the largest number of professionals, in order to satisfy the often unmet demand for real professionals.

In fact, with a simple mathematical calculation, one can explain and understand the needs of Italian catering: 300 starred restaurants of the Michelin’s Guide = 300 sommeliers (indicative parameter). In fact, this is not the case since few restaurants have a sommelier at their service, and only some of them have a sommelier at their disposal. An interesting prospect for ASPI, as it will be able to contribute to the formation of new recruits who, in the near future, will be able to satisfy catering requests.

Q: What are your plans for this third mandate for ASPI?

Being re-elected unanimously for the third consecutive time is a great privilege and an important moral commitment in completing shared projects.

ASPI has pursued the professional evolution of the sommelier profile since its inception, as a natural premise for promoting the culture of wine, beverages and food among the general public that a contemporary sommelier encounters on a daily basis.

The working strategies for my third mandate as President fall within the statutory objectives and in the planning approved by the Council, updated year after year in relation to the new requirements for market training and demand.

The main objective of ASPI is to consolidate itself in Italy as a reference point for the highest expression of contemporary sommelier as well as to create and offer real opportunities for growth and integration in the work of young sommeliers, or those who have achieved specific training and pursue the profession as an exclusive or prominent activity.

For the education that I received and for the typical characteristics of the people of my territory, there are no announcements or proclamations to show off, the consistency of which is to be verified, first they build projects, then they are realized and finally they talk about it.  This means that in ASPI there are other projects underway which will only be made public once they are operational. In fact, some projects are being studied, others, which concern the training proposals of ASPI, have been successfully implemented becoming the standard bearer of the Association.

Q: What benefits are there to membership in ASPI? (For example, do you help them to find jobs or education?)

The privileges of ASPI to its members can be summarized in the following ten points:

  1. To be part of an elite, internationally recognized association of true professionals in catering and wine communication, connected with over 60 sommelier associations across five continents.
  2. To test themselves and compare themselves with colleagues from all over the world by participating in the ASPI Competitions in Italy and in other countries, and the international ones of ASI (Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa, Americas, Asia-Oceania and World).
  3. Access to the exam to obtain the ASI International Sommelier diploma.
  4. To participate as a judge or taster in wine, in national and international wine competitions, made in collaboration with ASPI and/or ASI.
  5. To prioritize enrollment in training and / or refresher courses at academies, universities or professional institutes supported and / or approved by ASPI.
  6. To connect Italian sommeliers with those of other countries, and to access training internships in Italy and abroad.
  7. To participate in ASPI projects as a consultant or expert, and take an active role in shaping the profile and values of the modern Sommelier.
  8. To receive the Newsletter; attend ASPI events and get discounts at events where ASPI is present (congress, Best Sommelier competition, wine fairs, tasting booths, seminars, training courses, etc.).
  9. To show with pride the symbols of professionalism, in the form of a membership card and ASPI pin, reserved exclusively for ASPI members.
  10. To take pride in being an ASPI sommelier.

Q: How is education/training of sommeliers organized in Italy, and what is the ASPI’s role?

The ASPI projects on vocational education are as numerous as they are demanding. For a very active association like ASPI, it is essential to constantly implement new projects that include training but also events that favor quality drinks, especially wine, which enjoys a privileged stage.

The professional training of sommeliers is therefore one of the priorities of ASPI, which has recently encouraged its ten+ year collaboration with some Hotel School Institutes with a new and more targeted educational proposal, beginning with the 2018/19 school year. Collaboration agreements have been stipulated with numerous Hotel School Institutes in Lombardy, proposing a path to obtain the “Sommelier Junior” certificate drawn up by its experts to meet the needs of students, future operators in the hotel-restaurant and tourism sectors, who are developed in addition to traditional institutional lessons.

The course is called “Aspirante Sommelier,” is intended for years IV and V and involve a complete program to develop on the skills of the future sommelier. By the end, students who pass the exam will receive the certificate of Sommelier Junior and will have access to the advanced course for the title of Sommelier ASPI.

This professional ASPI proposal seeks to train hotel operators, cooks and restaurant service personnel to assess situations and make appropriate decisions as true professionals. We see it as having a high technical and cultural value.

In addition, professional training is added for those who work in the catering sector and for enthusiasts with the “Preparatory course for Sommelier,” which is guaranteed by the ASPI experts within structures chosen by the association (hotels in particular) and which consists of two theoretical introductory phases called “first level” and “second level.”

At the end of the two phases, usually concluded over a two-year period, the candidate who passes the verification interview at the end of the first level and the final exam at the end of the second level, with the presence of external commissioners, will receive the title of “Mastro Coppiere,” which will allow him/her to: access the courses for taster, course director and technical trainer on specific subjects. For those wishing to continue in the study to obtain the Sommelier qualification, ASPI has developed and completed the third level program, called “Advanced,” which will develop specific topics related to the training of the modern sommelier, such as beverage management, marketing, wine tourism, etc. This course can be accessed by the Mastro Coppiere and sommeliers desiring to refresh or improve their knowledge.

At the end of the third level there is the qualifying examination for the profession of sommelier.

Finally, to further promote the profession and meet the needs of those working in the beverage sector, ASPI has developed a professional “Tutoring” program, a theoretical/practical pathway of preparation for the International ASI Sommelier certification.

A sommelier who has gathered at least three years of work experience can then enroll in “Tutoring” to earn university-level credits that can then be used to gain access to the international exam.

These credits must be certified by the tutor or other person in charge of overseeing the candidate’s work and professional development for a period of not less than one year.

The ASI diploma will be worth gold or silver, if in a foreign language and in relation to the score obtained. It will be bronze if it is done in one’s own language, with the potential for honors depending on the score achieved.