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Sommeliers mature

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IN LINE with the world’s best educated palates, sommeliers in Australia are pushing for higher recognition for their roles in restaurant, hotel and pub wine service, with Victoria and NSW leading the charge and widening the Australian Sommeliers Association (ASA.)

ASA Victorian president and sommelier, Ben Edwards, and NSW president and gourmet retailer, Ben Moechtar, said they are working to create a national level of the non-profit body that was set up in the mid 1990s. Comprising mainly volunteer members, the ASA has so far has encouraged increased awareness among industry peers and wine lovers through events and promotional activities.

The latest development is part of a strategy by some in the professsion to attempt to foster wider focus on training for aspiring wine waiters as the role of sommelier gains increasing recognition for the key role in influencing profitability for restaurateurs and hoteliers through high level wine industry experience.

Events planned by the national body for the future include updates on contemporary issues, knowledge improvement and service standards, with tastings, master classes and forums with industry analysis.

Moechtar said the national ASA body ould provide Australian sommeliers with an stronger structure. “Going national will enable (members) to work, learn and compete with their international counterparts and provide consumers with better overall wine service in restaurants,” Moechtar said.

One of the important developments so far for the national body has been to align itself with Restaurant & Catering Australia to introduce a Sommelier of the Year award at R&CA’s high profile annual awards for excellence. Moechtar said the awards would be judged by the industry fromsommeliers to chefs to food and wine writers. “We’ll be being judged by our peers,” Moechtar said. “It’s an exciting step for us.”

There are a wide range of training courses in the wine and hospitality industries available for those interested in developing their wine awareness however some believe there is a shortage of dedicated and high level national programs for sommeliers in Australia.

The respected Ryde TAFE conducts a year-long wine course that awards participants a Certificate III in Hospitality—Sommelier which is supported by the NSW ASA. It’s conducted in a traineeship style with students working in the industry and attending the course one day week. The TAFE’s senior head teacher food and beverage and major supporter of wine education, Clive Hartley, said interest in sommelier training has been building strongly for the past six years. “Sommeliers have been receiving a lot more coverage in the media I think and people are really seeing it as a career option,” Hartley said.

“They see that by specialising they could be working for wine companies, they can travel, they could be working in hotels or in restaurants.”

Hartley said he has long wanted to see the development of a nationally-recognised accreditation program for sommeliers that would create a standard for the profession in Australia.

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