It’s important to have friends you can trust — whether you’re a person or a business. It’s no different for the ASI, which works closely with certain selected partners. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work in making these relationships move smoothly, so this month’s article explores not just the Whats, but also the Whys of the ASI’s Partner Program.
Attending an ASI event, reading the ASI newsletter or simply visiting ASI’s homepage, it’s hard to miss the presence of our partner logos at the bottom of the page. Careful observers might even have noticed periodic changes to their roster – including the addition of five new Gold level partners since the beginning of the year.
What might be less obvious is just how important these partners are to the ASI’s work, and vice-versa. Claire Berticat, Director of Partnerships at the ASI, has no such illusions: “I strongly believe that ASI’s sommelier candidates are aware that without top wineries, wines regions and products and accessories to support the competitions, there would be no competitions, and thus no titles to be won.”
Looking from the other side, the need is no less urgent. Claire Dumais from ASI Gold Partner Advini frames her business’s commitment this way: “The wines are produced to be shared with the consumer, and the sommelier is the link between them. They are the first ambassadors of our wines.” Joelle Marti-Baron of Gold Partner Familia Torres frames it in similar terms: “5 generations of producers at Famille Torres have learned that our own recognition among wine lovers grows from the fruits of the sommelier’s work, which takes the terroir, vineyards and the personality of a wine to the table.”
Different Models of Cooperation
Several different models for supporting the work of sommeliers are possible. One simple and direct option for potential partners is to support a specific competition, for example by providing the wines for a nation’s Best Sommelier contest. There are benefits to this approach, Berticat notes: “Your presence as a partner is strong, everywhere throughout the competition.” On the downside, that coverage extends only for the time of the competition.
Many brands are looking for greater reach, however, and the ASI Partnership Program offers an effective tool for this: “When you sign with ASI, it’s more like an institutional partnership. It means that we open the doors of the international sommellerie association to you,” says ASI President Andrés Rosberg.
Potential partners see tremendous value in that access. Magdalena Pesce of Gold Partner Wines of Argentina says her organization views the partnership as a highly effective channel for communication: “We see education as a vehicle to influence and reach new audiences. In this sense, being an ASI partner seemed to us the right way to communicate to the international sommelier community just how much innovation Vino Argentino is experiencing and, consequently, how Argentina is producing today the best wines of its history.”
The same concept scales down wonderfully for specific brand portfolios. Victoria Symington of Gold Partner Graham’s Port, notes that sommeliers who know the products offer direct and convincing tableside testimonials: “As a hugely influential group of people within the wine trade, we hope that by building a stronger relationship with sommeliers, they in turn can help to share intricate stories about our family business.”
Clear Basis for Collaboration
The role of the partner has evolved over time. ASI once referred to these arrangements as ‘sponsors’, but has since changed to ‘partners.’ The shift is more than just wordplay; it reflects an awareness that the relationship must flow in both directions. “We know that we need to take good care of everyone,” says Michèle Chantôme, ASI’s Director for PR, Communication & Marketing Committee. “It takes time and dedication.” In earlier years there was an informal rule that there would be no more than 10 partners in total, Chantôme recalls. A more recent push by the Board to expand the program was needed to allow for greater professionalization of the ASI’s committees, teams and processes.
Even so, one of the prime directives of the partnership program is that there is to be no competition between the partners. Each and every partner receives what Berticat calls ‘their own special moment’ to shine and convey what makes them unique to the ASI community. This ensures the partners receive a measurable return on their investment.
Non-beverage partners receive an additional perk: exclusivity for their brand at ASI events for the duration of the contract. These guidelines apply to any and all competitions bearing the ASI imprimatur, even when the host nation typically works with a different provider. That is a huge benefit for these partners, indicates Caroline Thomas of closure maker and Gold Partner Vinventions: “We invite the sommeliers to have an in-depth discovery of the fascinating and passionate world of wine closures. We in turn learn from the expertise and front-line experience of the sommeliers.”
For Gold partners who are wine producers or wine regions, the flow of support often works in the opposite direction as well. “The partnerships are all about building bridges,” Chantôme says. For example, ASI listens to the needs of its partners and explores how ASI might add value, such as sommelier support with the planning of events or increasing the partner’s social media reach.
And, as one would expect from a sociable industry like sommellerie, there is another benefit as well: “This partnership is a great opportunity to support the profession and to be able to exchange with these ambassadors who, in many cases, have become over the years very good friends,” says Matthieu Perrin of Gold Partner Famille Perrin.