What the somms said
The relevance of Sommeliers was highlighted by the popularity of the best attended Rootstock session of the year, while the enthusiasm of the Rootstockers in attendance was confirmed by the Twitter action that ensued. In fact, #RootstockSA trended in second place, hot on the heels of #Rhodeshasfallen.
The Rootstock Somm Session was presented in collaboration with The South African Sommelier Association (SASA), with the panel for the evening comprising six of this organisation’s board members. If you were not able to make it to L’Avenir, here are some key take-home messages.
1. Education is key
Responding to a question from the floor about what SASA would do if they had R1 million rand to spend, the answer was unanimous: “Spend it on education”. Because somms are particularly involved in direct interaction with consumers, they have a unique and important role to play in sharing their knowledge.
Fine Wine Events somm, Jörg Pfützner, emphasised that somms are not only employed to sell wine, but to raise the knowledge of their colleagues and online casino to “fire up the passion”. Protégé and internship programmes were mentioned as one means of lighting the fire. Swedish somm Joaquim Blackadder emphasised that the possibility of progression from being a waiter to becoming a sommelier can be life changing and that the foundation to do that should be provided.
In discussing the all-important, recurring topic of education, it was emphasised that patrons do not attend restaurants to be lectured, but to relax and have a good time. Somms are therefore required to share knowledge, without being intimidating or patronising. The profession has therefore shifted away from “penguin chested” arrogance, with somms also providing a quality customer service beyond fine dining establishments.
2. Sell the dream
Winemakers should drop the technical jargon and “sell the dream”. This according to French-born Jean Vincent Ridon, who argued that a winemaker’s philosophy and passion is a lot easier to sell than a southern slope or particular soil.
“Debunking the myth of wine” was a key topic during the Q & A and it was reaffirmed that to stop confusing technical notes for marketing talk is part of this crucial process.
3. A changing environment
Restaurateur and somm, Neil Grant suggested that stricter drinking and driving regulations have led to a decrease in wine sales during lunchtime. This has, however, not impacted dinner sales as severely. He commented that hubs, like the hip and happening Bree Street scene, provide a one-stop experience of food and beverages, while Uber has played a significant role in providing an alternative to driving without having a tipple.
Wine Cellar’s James Pietersen commented that wine by the glass sales are playing an increasingly important role, with women accounting for a significant part of these sales.
Read about SASA here.