'What wine should we drink with dinner tonight – red, white, rosé or orange?'
The homes for the professionals delivering the best service are traditionally the dining rooms of restaurants and hotels. With the New Zealand wine and beverage industry gaining momentum the importance of real credentialed knowledge and skills in the service of beverages is a driver for success.
Sommeliers and service staff with credentials or certification in their chosen discipline are in short supply. Restaurants find it very difficult to source 'good staff' and even harder to find qualified and experienced professional staff. Additionally, businesses requiring credentialed beverage service staff now include retail and parts of the alcohol wholesale sector as evidenced in local and international markets. While the reliance on experience alone has been common in New Zealand, with the expansion of the sector (and the fantastic quality and extent of our local wines) there is little doubt that research, study, mentoring, and discussion have become necessary.
Throughout the last thirty years there have been several attempts at launching organisations or associations that offer a membership opportunity for specific positions in the hospitality (for example Sommeliers). These organisations have experienced varying degrees of success, and usually a short existence possibly due to poor marketing, a weak membership base, no clear leadership or enough support from associated businesses such as restaurants, hotels and suppliers.
After lengthy discussions between business owner Celia Hay and I on the importance of and ways to develop and grow a solid, decent and respected organisation, the New Zealand Sommeliers and Wine Professionals Association (NZSWP) was launched in May 2016.
The two key aims in the creation of the association are firstly to provide a membership opportunity for Sommeliers and wine professionals seeking opportunities to learn from their peers, grow their knowledge base and ultimately become more confident, valid, and valued in the hospitality sector. The second aim is to become part of the strong international community – to forge links overseas (and compete in service competitions). New Zealand will become eligible to join the Association de la Sommelerie Internationale otherwise known as 'ASI' (http://www.sommellerie-internationale.com/en)
What we have achieved so far includes: the formation of a Board of Directors; the formal launch of the association; several tasting and membership drive events – leading to receiving an invitation to join ASI. The board of directors is made up of well-known wine professionals from around New Zealand, each becoming a separate 'go to' person in their region for such as mentoring, thus formalising the association as a national entity.
We feel it was very important to be available to all potential and new members across New Zealand - rather than a central office, we operate as a collection of satellites Our group includes currently: Otago (Claudio Heye), Canterbury (Angela Clifford), Wellington (Stephen Wong MW), Hawke's Bay (Matthew Judd - Advanced Level Sommelier) and Auckland (Karen Fistonich Villa Maria). Celia Hay holds the position of Chairperson and I am Patron.
Wine tasting and education events held so far include a class and tasting of natural and orange wine conducted by winemaker Lynnette Hudson and a New Zealand-made bottle fermented sparkling wine class with winemaker James Rowan (wines sponsored by Methode Marlborough).
Upcoming events include a Sake class and an Italian wine class - details can be found on the associations new website http://sommelier.co.nz
We look forward to attracting a strong membership within the sector (and associated industries we work with); building a database of qualified Sommeliers and wine professionals. In doing we hope to encourage the hospitality sector especially to always seek employees who are qualified, professional, raise the standard of service and ensure strong, successful businesses – an exciting prospect.