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Georgia: host to the ‘Association de la Sommellerie International’ AGM

A rich heritage and hopes for a brighter future

In this country whose wine-making culture dates back over 8,000 years, delegates from 37 countries joined together to look at the first year of office of the association’s new president, Andres Rosberg, define objectives for the coming year and discuss upcoming events. Once this business was completed they all went on to discover the incredible diversity of the country’s wine-making culture and heritage.

Le bureau de l’ASI au complet a défendu sa première année de bilan et beaucoup parlé d’avenir.

This was the Argentinian Andres Rosberg’s first General Assembly since his election as president of the ‘Association de la Sommellerie Internationale’ a year ago. The AGM was held on the 18th June in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Delegates from 37 countries and members of the various commissions were got together to work their way through a very full and diverse agenda.

The proceedings began with a word of welcome for the two countries that had come to present their credentials as future members. Celia Hay, the president of the New Zealand Sommeliers and wine professionals association, talked to us about the beginnings of her association: their first national competition in 2014, the participation of a candidate representing New Zealand at the last world championship, their training initiatives and their desire to federate the wine professionals from their various wine producing regions.

For the Philippines, Charmaine Wang, director of their National Association, has made a priority of setting up specialised training programs in her country. But that has not stopped her association from also organising 2 national competitions in 2017 and 2018, each involving over twenty entrants.

The applications of both countries were validated by the statutes commission which received Jean Pallanca from Monaco for the last time.

Other countries are eager to join the ASI: Paraguay, Armenia, Kazakhstan, India, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Madagascar and Zimbabwe are currently organising themselves nationally to prepare their entry onto the international scene.

Communication means better growth

For Andres Rosberg communication is an essential part of his program. The key members of this commission, which also covers marketing, were able to use figures to highlight the progress made in the area over the last year. The ambition to widen exposure through increased visibility will be concentrated on two geographical zones: the United States and Asia.

The treatment of our sponsors is also an essential factor, considering that 2017 was marked by the departure of a certain number of sponsors such as Moët & Chandon and Nespresso. However, in 2018, new sponsors have joined us such as: Ligne W & Château Laguiole, Ningxia wines, Trapiche and Wines of Argentina. As for the SommelierS International magazine, it remains wholly committed to the ASI as Eric Allouche testified during his presentation.

The president has able to motivate these new sponsors by highlighting the ASI’s strengths: Starting with nearly fifty years of history, expansion into new countries; the quality of its competitions, professional management and a more modern general approach. “We need more exposure and this has already begun with the very good results we have seen with our communication efforts on social media. It is also up to us to reconsider the certification examination and promote the new educational committee, under the responsibility of Sören Polonius. It is also essential that the technical committee becomes even more professional and that training events, such as wine-tasting workshops and master-classes, can be organised alongside our AGMs.”

Finally, inspired by approaches prevalent in the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, president Rosberg strongly encouraged the national associations to work together.

A very full agenda

With the completion of the 5th ASI Best American Sommelier competition, the delegates were able to start looking to the future raising the subject of the major events which will mark the Association’s activities over the next few years. But before that, 2018 will close with the Asia-Oceania competition in Kyoto, Japan. The Japanese association, represented in Tibilisi by Saiko Tamura, requested no financial aid from the ASI for the reception of the candidates and their entourages on 15 October. Kazakhstan has added its application to the eleven countries that have already signed up, bringing the total number of entrants hoping to succeed the Japanese sommelier Hiroshi Ishida up to 24. The final will take place on the afternoon of the 18 October.

Eric Allouche a confirmé le soutien indéfectible du magazine SommelierS International. / Charmaine Chang a présenté le dossier philippin. Elle est entourée par Peer Holm et Andres Rosberg. / Célia Hay a présenté la candidature de la Nouvelle-Zélande.

The winner of this continental competition, as is the case for Latvia (Europe-Africa) and Canada (Americas), will guarantee a second entry for their country at the World Championships on the 10-15 March 2019 in Antwerp, Belgium. William Wouters will reveal all of the details of this major event, which will be held exactly fifty years after the first ever international competition of its type, at a special press conference on the 18 September. However we already know that the final will take place in a hall capable of receiving a public of up to 2,000.

And in November 2020, the setting will be entirely different as it will be held on the Island of Cyprus. George Kassianos, president of the national association, has high hopes of being able to organise the final of the next ASI Best European Sommelier competition in a historic open air amphitheatre.

And in three years it will be time for the next Americas and Asia-Oceania competitions. Whilst Mexico has expressed an interest in hosting the former, we will have to wait a little bit longer before confirming the decision. As for Australia, the AGM unreservedly accepted their proposal for the latter.

Next AGMs: from Paris to China

The next assembly could well bring together representatives from more than sixty different countries and will be held in Paris on the 12 November. This proposal came from Philippe Faure-Brac, this annual meeting including ceremonies for the ASI’s fiftieth anniversary has been validated. On Sunday 2 June 2019, an overview of international sommelier activity will be held in Paris. That evening the UDSF will also be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.

On the next day everyone will set off for the Champagne region, where Reims and then Epernay will host the delegations for two packed and enjoyable days of activities. It is indeed essential that the Association does not forget its history or the diversity of its past. This is our real heritage!

The setting will indeed be very different for the 2020 assembly. Indeed whilst Finland expressed a desire to be hosts, the arrival of our first ever Chinese sponsor swayed the decision towards the ‘Middle Kingdom’. This means there could well be the chance to discover one of the country’s great wine-making regions.


Live from Georgia

Sören Polonius reveals some secrets

Newly promoted to the head of the ASI’s new educational commission, the Swede Sören Polonius will be supported by a very international team. He will have a number of missions to fulfil including supporting sommeliers in the expansion of their knowledge of areas outside of wine; such as beer, sake and other beverages.

The commission will also be expected to be involved in the competitions, to simplify the work of the juries, encourage impartiality and transparency and avoid subjectivity in the attribution of scores.
And this one-time 2010 world championship candidate knows all about the competitions. Since then he has been methodically analysing the competitions to develop training strategies for his own country’s candidates. And he shared some of this valuable knowledge in his master-class during the ASI AGM.

He revealed a few secrets about preparing in advance, memory and speed training... not forgetting the importance of rehearsing gestures. For him, “there is no room for romanticising if you want to win”, surgical efficiency is essential.

Sören Polonius / Shalva Khetsuriani / Giuseppe Vaccarini, Annemarie Foidl et  Andres Rosberg

Giving an identity to saperavi

On the initiative of Shalva Khetsuriani, two hours were consecrated to a rather peculiar exercise. As part of his ambition to promote the recognition of the quality of Georgian wine-making, beyond its well-known historic importance, the president of the Georgian Sommeliers, also a wine-producer himself, wished to see an exercise concerning saperavi become reality.

This variety which is so symbolic of Georgia, one of dozens - some of which have been cultivated for thousands of years, was the subject of a tasting session to identify its characteristics as a variety. This has never been done before. More than twenty blind-samples were presented to the international delegates and a number of Georgian wine professionals. Each expressed their sensations, notably the world’s top three sommeliers who were present: Giuseppe Vaccarini, Serge Dubs and Philippe Faure-Brac. “Whilst there is very little influence from being aged in wooden barrels, the blackness of the grape is very remarkable. Of the red grape varieties, this one presents a fantastic eulogy of acidity and tannin”, said Serge Dubs.

“This tasting session was very interesting in its approach. However it is very rare for sommeliers to be asked to express themselves on the subject of a variety as a whole. Georgia’s approach in this case really shows their two-fold respect for both this grape variety and our profession”, commented Philippe Faure-Brac.

A very dynamic wine-growing culture on show

Sometimes the historic dimension alone is not enough, even when it dates back over 8,000 years. This is exactly what Shalva Khetsuriani wanted to show us with these visits.

He started with their traditional knowledge, with a visit to the heart of the Kakheti to the North East of Tbilisi. This is a largely agricultural region where each family produces its own wine in the qvevri tradition, using buried terracotta amphora to age the wine. After a visit to a small museum explaining this method, the delegates were able to witness the extraordinary opening of one of these amphorae at the Twins wine cellar, opened by the brothers Gia and Gela Gamtkitsulashvili brothers, and taste that domain’s white wine. This was a privilege and an honour.

On returning to Tbilisi there was a second tasting session to conclude the Georgian visit. This was a final highlight as an introduction to a very complete presentation of the history, geological diversity and analysis of the county’s major wine producing regions, ranging from the Black Sea coast to the Azerbaijan border.

Then, with the help of a few members if his association and the participation of a number of wineries, he was able to present the full diversity of their national production. An overview which started with the sparkling wines and moved on to their medium-sweet wines… and even including a look at their stronger spirits.

Diplomas issued to the four corners of the world

The presentation of the ASI certification diploma has become a kind of tradition honouring various countries. For each diploma it is the president of the national association who receives the official document, and the accompanying map and insignia badges. This examination represents the culmination of a long process, initially by Giuseppe Vaccarini and his team and then by those in charge if the host countries of each competition, which is held on the same day across the world. Annemarie Foidl, president of the Austrian Sommeliers Association was the first to receive the precious diploma and then award it to the various winners.

In 2018 57 out of 75 candidates successfully passed the exam of which 23 received the gold standard.
In 2019 the certification tests will be passed on the 4th of March.

Jean Bernard