The Great SA Sommelier Scam

Neil Pendock April 23, 2012 10

The French have had enough shocks this morning, with Marine Le Pen – one vowel away from being a great garagiste Merlot – emerging as the Joan of Arc de nos joursMarine Merlot, a grand cuvée for sailors.  Now it turns out that the SA Sommelier of the Year Competition, sponsored last year by Bollinger Champagne, is a fizzer because it appears that SA fine dining restaurants have no stomachs for sommeliers.  Just as well WOSA failed to train 2010 sommeliers in the Fundi Fiasco for the Soccer World Cup in 2010 and caveat emptors to those signing up for Cathy Marston’s WSET courses.  It’s like my doctorate in medieval baton twirling – great fun to study for, but totally useless in practise.  There are no jobs.

Not wanted in SA

Recently spoke to a European sommelier (Michelin ***, great pecs) seeking a year-long sabbatical in SA and was told “they only want you for the summer season and on days when their restaurant is full.  It’s not a full-time job.  They say it would be better to make your own wine and earn money in other ways.  But you can’t be a part-time sommelier.  Setting up a cellar takes years and you need to keep tasting your wines on a continual basis to advise your patrons.”

So rather than training sommeliers for non-existent jobs, perhaps the SA industry should train restaurateurs?  There were recently some grandiose schemes floating around the spittoon, driven by an unspent R1 billion in government training funds at the Department of Trade and Industry.  Plans to turn Quoin Rock into a University of Wine along the lines of UCT or Stellenbosch were floated by the usual entrepreneurs and chancers.  Perhaps a humble hotel school would be more appropriate.  After all, Basil Fawlty, of Fawlty Towers fame, is a frequent visitor to the Cape and he and John Cleese just love SA wine.


  1. Cathy Marston April 23, 2012 at 9:56 am -

    Hi Neil,

    The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses have nothing to do with sommeliers – they’re aimed at people working in the wine industry, who need a knowledge of international wine-styles in order to carry out their jobs effectively – ie winemakers, wine marketers, wine sales managers, winery owners etc. They’re also great for people who want to improve their knowledge of overseas wines and certainly I have had several restaurant folk on my recent rounds of courses, but if you want detailed in-depth info on how to decant and uncork – that’s not WSET. But whilst I’m at it, some of your readers might be interested in finding out more about the only internationally-recognised wine courses in the world, so here are the deets


  2. In The Know April 23, 2012 at 11:06 am -

    That billion is DEFINATELY not lying around at the D.T.I. The cooking school mafia(you referred to them as the usual entrepreneurs & chancers) has been “training” like crazy with it.
    Check out the schools run by the current president of the SA Chefs Association.

  3. Pieter F. April 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm -

    The “only internationally recognised wine course in the world” ? Says who?

    What about The Cape Wine Academy – they say their courses are internationally recognised too?

    And what about the Institute of Masters of Wine, UK? , or the Bordeaux Management School? Or universities in Bordeaux, Adelaide, Wagga Wagga, UC Davis, UC Fresno, Cornell, Montpelier, Melbourne, Nanterre La Defense, Plumpton, Giesenheim?

    Are none of the Bordeaux L’École du Vin courses, offered all over the world, valid? and internationally recognised?

    What is it with this oft repeated phrase “the only internationally recognised wine course in the world”? Is is copyrighted by WSET? Is it true? Is it marketing bollox by WSET? – the more it is repeated the more people will believe it?

    I don’t mean to detract from WSET courses, but to continually claim that they are “the only blah blah etc…” is to, by automatic default, denigrate all other courses and imply that they are useless and invalid, which is most certainly not the case.

  4. Gabi Williams April 24, 2012 at 10:09 am -

    Well said Peter!

  5. Wonkie Cartoons April 24, 2012 at 11:48 pm -

    Neil, forget about restauranteurs and sommeliers – I think South Africa would be better off training the hospitality industry’s waiting staff first – customer service at eating establishments is really falling to a pathetic level in SA

  6. Johan April 25, 2012 at 11:11 am -

    @Pieter F – The Cape Wine Academy isn’t recognised outside of Africa. In fact, the CWA diploma is not worth the paper it is printed on if you want to use it anywhere other than in Africa. I tried to get a job on the back of my CWA diploma at a wine shop in London, and they laughed when they saw the diploma. They employed me, but only because I offered to do WSET. In other words, I wasted a great deal of money on CWA. It’s fine for gaining knowledge, but it sure as hell isn’t a highly regarded/widely recognised institution.

    I am sure Cathy misspoke and meant to say WSET is the only internationally recognised wine course in South Africa – which is a fact.

  7. Pieter F. April 25, 2012 at 8:07 pm -

    @Johan Ms.Marston has been banging on for weeks and weeks about WSET being ” the only internationally recognised course etc etc”.

    Fair play to her, she is selling it to anyone willing to pony up the considerable funds to do the course.

    But you seem to know what Cathy actually meant, rather than actually said/wrote.

    Did you speak to her? Do you know her personally?

    Maybe she would be good enough to set the record straight?

    The ASA wouldn’t want to get a sniff of any mis-selling, would they?

  8. Johan May 3, 2012 at 11:13 am -

    @Pieter F – I don’t speak for Cathy or know her.

    I answered you on your comment. Your comments were not accurate.

    Fact: Cape Wine Academy is not internationally recognised.

    Fact: WSET is the only internationally recognised wine course in South Africa.

    If you want to attack Cathy personally, go for it keyboard hero. Leave me out of it.

  9. Jeanette Hayworth October 5, 2012 at 6:28 am -

    Is it really a scam or was there just a misunderstanding? I know that it is hard for sommeliers to find out that there wasn’t any job available, but perhaps they were expecting too much?

  10. Jeanette Hayworth October 19, 2012 at 10:41 am -

    Well, a sommelier is a very unique job, and though it sounds easy, it actually needs a very particular set of abilities. Personally, I think less of the lack of jobs, rather, I choose to wonder if a sommelier’s job really requires that much training.

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