1ST World Sommelier Congress Delphi, Greece —- A Development Strategy for Sommellery for the next decade. Andrew O’ Gorman

This congress was held during May, 2006 in the magnificent surroundings just a few steps from the famous archaeological site of Delphi on the slopes of Mount Parnassos, Greece. The congress was targeted at people working in the following areas: restaurants, wine education, wine cellar, winery, journalists, retailers and wholesalers, etc. Ireland was represented at this congress by Mrs. Mary O’ Callaghan, Wine Consultant and Lecturer at DIT, Oliver J. Murtagh, President, Irish Guild of Sommeliers and Andrew O’ Gorman, DIT.

The congress opened with the question: what does the future hold for sommellery at the dawn of the 21ST century? The international Sommelier association has started discussion on the role of the sommelier towards 2015 / 2020. Since it was founded in France at the beginning of the 20th century sommellery has spread across the whole world and reached the unprecedented influence it enjoys today. But what will its future be in the 21st century? Will there always be a place for the sommelier in the world of tomorrow? How will globalisation affect this profession? Are terroir wines at risk of disappearing to branded wines? Will the “global customer” and “standardisation of tastes”soon render the role of the sommelier outdated? What are the trends in the restaurant business in Europe, Asia and America? These were some of the issues discussed and debated at the congress.

As a privileged partner of the wine grower and advisor to the consumer the sommelier is in perfect position to lead the discussion on the future of wine and future customer trends. Whether you are a sommelier, wine lecturer, cellar master, journalist, retailer of wine etc. this congress was very worthwhile attending.

The sommelier is the person who is responsible for beverages — storage, delivery and service in cooperation with management and is also responsible for stock control and categorising the beverages in the restaurant. The sommelier should be good at marketing, communicating, being a team player and a lover of wine. Wine is a rising star in the firmament of change. Gone is the “dusty carafe”and in its place the designer labelled bottle . Another trend is wine ordered by the glass .The sommelier who thanks to his professionalism, training and up – to- date knowledge has enhanced the product of wine worldwide.  In the 1960’s the sommelier was viewed with scepticism by the restaurant establishment. However step by step the profession has come into its own. There is now more dialogue with the customer and subsequently sales are increasing and people are buying better wines. The sommelier is the last link in the chain of distribution.

To accurately predict the role of the sommelier to 2015-2020 it is essential to listen to the experts, past and present who have made wine great, namely: sommeliers, chefs, proprietors of restaurants, educationalists, students of wine, wine writers and producers. Sommeliers are represented by top professionals who are in touch with the present.  Certificate, diploma, degree, and masters students represent the future in the view of many.

In the session on sommelier education and training the following were discussed: Hospitality Schools, Universities, Internships, Sommelier Competitions and Further Education. Mary O’ Callaghan was a panel member for this session and she outlined what was happening in wine education in Ireland and particularly on degree courses in the School of Culinary Arts and Food Technology, DIT, along with the student wine scholarship to Jerez, Spain and the recent Cote du Rhone competition for hospitality students. Others who spoke on education developments included Giuseppe Vaccarini, Director General Association Sommellerie Internationale , Italy, Mischa Billings, Oreboro University, Sweden, Herve Fleury, Paul Bocuse Institute, France. It was emphasised that the way sommeliers are trained and educated is very important and is regarded as the way forward for the profession.

One of the keynote speakers outlined the results from an international  study on the global trends in the food and drinks industries and their effects on the sommelier profession. The study involved the world’s most important restaurants with a special focus on wine. It analysed:

  1. The challenges that lie ahead for the restaurant business
  2. The future relationships between food and wine
  3. New products and trends in the wine industry in response to changing customer demands
  4. The role of the sommelier in 2015 / 2020.

The ever changing world is forcing restaurants to look at not only food, drink and service but also at image, communication and marketing. Entrepreneurs within the sector state that in order to satisfy their customers excellent communication is vital and restaurateurs, sommeliers and chefs are convinced that image is fundamental to the success or otherwise of the restaurant. “The International Sommelier Association are studying today so that you can prepare for tomorrow”. ( Delegate )

Two quotations from  a Vintner conference:

“To compete we need more training”.

“Job satisfaction will only come with training”.

Overall this was a very worthwhile congress and has posed many questions and topics for discussion that hopefully will be followed up in the near future. This congress was a first in bringing together the diverse interests involved in the wine business.

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