Sommelier for Corona
We are writing in the early 2020s, nothing wrong with that. The millennium had just turned 20. The vines that were planted in 2000 are now young adults. The millennials who want to devote themselves professionally to wine are now ripe for a taste of the real thing “on the field”.
We travelled around the world without any worries. From Ningxia to Napa, from Zaragosa to the southernmost tip of South Africa. Tastings were also organised for the general public, sometimes for a select few. The working week for most sommeliers was mainly the weekend, with some on and off.
The stock of wine had to be monitored everywhere. The accountant or the financial manager kept telling us to be careful. But business was good, the guests also ordered big bottles. Occasionally, the choice was made on a budget, usually when it was for the client’s own account.
We made plans for the coming weeks, months and even years. Which wine region did we want to discover on the spot? When would we visit our favourite winemaker or region again? We did this to visit our friends and like-minded people. Also to taste and assess recent vintages and new wines. Very often, we ended with one or more “older” wines, to show how beautifully the wine can mature.
18 March 2020, Belgium goes into lockdown. Fortunately, the sun shines a lot during this period. It would last about three weeks.
To be quite honest, we had the impression that most of us did not mind at the time. Sommelierchallenge groups were created. Social media were used to share which wine we were tasting. Personally, I took the time to read some old and new wine books more thoroughly. The evenings were warm and long, and above all, we had no obligations. The ideal moment to catch our breath in an instructive way.
But the weeks turned into months and everything had been cleaned and polished a second time. The container with empty bottles to bring to the glass container was often quite full. Here too, we noticed that we were not the only ones. People noticed that they were still regularly enjoying a glass of wine. What a joy!
The first webinars were organised, one more professional than the other. As befits a sommelier and the wine world in general, we are inventive, creative and professional enough to adapt. Not only the Belgian sommeliers, but also colleagues from all over the world, each in their own way, did something via the Internet or on social media. All with one goal: to pass on the passion and love for wine.
So here we come to the sore point of this sanitary crisis, because after the first lockdown we fortunately had some summer months where we could do the nice job with full dedication. In most cases, it was extremely busy. Almost all the people were drinking big bottles, even if it was on their own account. People had taken off again and everything was running smoothly despite the many rules and measures.
But a second lockdown would not survive for most of us, yet it was inevitable and by the end of October it was that again. It wouldn’t take too long, they said. Unfortunately, today we are more than five months further on and there is still no clear perspective. Everyone has a certain date in mind, but no one knows for sure when we will be able to actually start working again. That when, is just a matter of time.
Time to taste and deepen our knowledge
In the meantime, everyone has had time to think carefully, and to realise that there is another life besides that wonderful job. I have heard from several like-minded people about two clear trends. On the one hand, the group of passionate stress seekers of the hospitality industry, on the other hand, the rational and honest with themselves employee or employer who can now also appreciate another way of life.
I saw sommeliers who deepened their already broad knowledge. There were top sommeliers who did a winter pruning in Flemish vineyards. Others were tasting more wines from our own region than before. Internationally acclaimed colleagues were more easily accessible than before via one or other hemisphere or team. Winemakers from all over the world made very instructive videos about climate, terroir, new techniques, classic methods and so on.
The future of the sommelier
The profession of Sommelier was already a bottleneck profession. It is not going to get any better after this crisis, I fear. But still, hopefully, we are heading for a brighter future. Why a brighter future, I hear you think.
When everything can go more or less back to normal, improved working conditions will more than likely be taken into account. This has already been going on for some time, in an important part of the hotel and catering industry. But now it will (have to) be accelerated. The government will play an important role in this. If they do not do this rigorously, the sector will bear the consequences of this crisis for many years to come.
It will be more than 9 months that we were technically unemployed as a sector. The compensation you received was actually only a small towel for the bleeding. Because (almost) everyone I spoke to is eager to pamper the guests again. To provide nice combinations with text and explanation, to make new and old discoveries. To launch or confirm tendencies and trends. To immerse the guests in a blissful bath of wine in a responsible and honest manner. To handle the right glassware, the right temperature, the right choice. To do what we love most: to provide people with that little bit extra, the perfect wine experience.
Because no App, no webinar, no virtual wine tour or tasting can even come close to the original. Enjoying a beautiful bottle in a restaurant, together with friends, family, acquaintances or business relations. Being impressed by the right choice and passionate explanation of the sommelier. In the future, we will be able to travel from Ningxia to Napa, from Zaragosa to South Africa in a few seconds. I still want to use ALL my senses when we talk about wine. Feel, smell, see, taste and hear what the sommelier has to tell us. Because that is the extra added value that people like to spend a bit of money for. There has been a lot of time to learn and hopefully the right lessons will be learned. But mainly because sommeliers are positive people, who want to soothe their guests. Finally, a number of tools have been developed in recent months that can support the profession even better. The most important thing will be that, just as with a good wine, the right balance is found between all the elements. Then you can be sure that there is a very bright future ahead of us.
Hoping for a healthy, safe and beautiful wine moment together …
Best Sommelier of Belgium 2010
President of the Belgian Sommelier Guild