A competition for aspiring sommeliers
For the first time this year, Saint-Emilion winegrowers have organised an inter-school competition for sommelier students.
The contest took place from 5 October to 13 November. The theme this year was :
Describe Saint-Emilion in 2030 and its relationship to the environment as you visit and/or taste it.
“We wanted a modern theme that would stimulate these young contestants and let them imagine themselves in the future”, explains Sabine Silvestrini, a winegrower, oenologist and contest judge.
17 schools in France and Belgium competed against one another.
“As a result of coronavirus and the lockdown, it was a bit less than what we’d hoped for, especially in Belgium”, highlights Jean-François Galhaud, president of the Saint-Emilion Wine Council.
The contest was organised as an extension of the courses offered for many years by the Wine Council in the schools, and last year was won on 16 December by two schools :
Lycée de Gascogne in Talence (Gironde)
Lycée Hôtelier International in Lille (Nord).
Training the ambassadors of tomorrow
The students who took part in the challenge are aged 18 to 26 and are enrolled in the sommelier professional diploma programme or are minoring in sommellerie. “Our aim was to get them talking about Saint-Emilion and to train them for their future careers. They will be our ambassadors in the future”, says Jean-François Galhaud. “We want to be there for these future trend-setters and show them that we’re accessible and available”, adds Sabine Silvestrini.
Contestants had to give their vision of Saint-Emilion in the future. Each class had six weeks to work on the required theme. Videos, presentations, letters, or any media was allowed, with the challenge consisting of trying to win over the judges.
“We wanted the students to share their vision of Saint-Emilion, its wine and history, the techniques used in winemaking, its status as a World Heritage Site, and so on. They should understand that in Saint-Emilion, we don’t just sell wine; we sell a dream and a history”, notes Jean-François Galhaud. Sabine Silvestrini adds, “There were some really attractive entries. It’s interesting to see how young people look at wine.”
This contest is also a way to popularise wines from the jurisdiction. “In Saint-Emilion, the winegrowers are approachable and welcoming”, says the president of the Saint-Emilion Wine Council. This sentiment is also shared by winegrower Sabine Silvestrini, who quickly added, “Our estates are open to the public. These students need to realise that winegrowers aren’t all old. There are lots of young people picking up the torch. The world of winegrowing is modern and dynamic.”
A jury of professionals
With oenologists, tutors, appellation managers and even members of the Saint-Emilion Wine Council, the 11 judges were all professionals working in wine but who are involved differently. They were particularly attentive to creativity, argumentation and how serious the statements were. They expected students to address them as potential consumers. Sabine Silvestrini was chosen since she belongs to the promotion committee of the Saint-Emilion Wine Council.
As a tutor at the Bordeaux Wine School, she is used to being around young people. “We paid particular attention to the students’ level of knowledge and the quality of their research. The contest should stimulate the hospitality schools with regard to our wines”, she highlights.
Indeed, with this contest, the winegrowers have one goal in mind: reassessing themselves and getting a new outlook on their work. “To know where you are, you need to confront others”, says Jean-François Galhaud. This sentiment is also shared by Sabine Silvestrini: “We expected each of the 17 entries to force us to re-evaluate ourselves and break away from what we usually do.”
An environmental approach
The future sommeliers worked on the environment in terms of cultural practices, certification, and societal expectations. This theme affects winegrowers in particular since they have to deal with a changing climate every day. We were curious to see what the students had to offer”, explains Jean-François Galhaud. This was an opportunity to look at innovations in the field of winegrowing in addition to ecological certifications (Organic Agriculture - AB, Terra Vitis, Biodyvin, Demeter, etc.) and show that estates in the jurisdiction are increasingly focusing on organic production and eco-responsibility, whether or not they are certified. “We are a centre for innovation focused on the future”, says the president of the Saint-Emilion Wine Council.
The appellation focuses on innovation, but also carries its traditions. “Saint-Emilion is tradition moving forward. We have a thousand years of traditions we want to share and showcase through the new generations”, Jean-François Galhaud points out.
Sabine Silvestrini perpetuates the values of Saint-Emilion wine: “We want to emphasise that we aren’t just winegrowers who live in Saint-Emilion; we want to pass on our values of sharing, discovery and culture to the younger generation.”
Two classes tied
From Marseille to Paris, Grenoble and Lille, schools from all over France participated in the contest, alongside a class from Namur, Belgium. However, the students from Lycée de Gascogne in Talence (Gironde), and the Lycée Hôtelier International in Lille (Nord) were the ones who won over the judges.
The teacher who supervised the students from Talence, near Bordeaux, is thrilled that she took part in the contest: “We were in the middle of learning about the Bordeaux wine region. We were able to deal with issues from outside the programme such as sustainable development. Plus, it ended up well for us!” The future sommeliers from Talence focused on solidarity between the winegrowing estates and proposed setting up an HVE4 label, standing for “High Environmental Value”. They also suggested creating an Environmental Centre in Saint-Emilion to welcome professionals and the general public. “The students wanted to set up a real platform for exchange and innovation where they can sell products and explain the environmental approaches established by Saint-Emilion winegrowers”, she adds.
From Lille, Lucie Laplace, a student in the Lycée Hôtelier International explains, “We knew about Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, but not much about Saint-Emilion. We had lots of stereotypes in mind, and we thought these were old-fashioned wines our grandparents would drink. This contest helped us change our outlook on the wine region.” The sommelier students found out about the ecological orientation of Saint-Emilion wines with lots of estates focusing on organic agriculture. They also discovered the multitude of small plots of land making up the vineyards. For their entry, they decided to showcase the wines to younger people on social media. “We read an article where the singer Louane tasted some Saint-Emilion wine. We thought we should share the vision of celebrities like her on Instagram. It’s very important to talk to young people”, says the budding sommelier.
A three-day stay in Saint-Emilion
A competition for aspiring sommeliers
The 11 and 10 students in each of the two classes won a 3-day stay in the Saint-Emilion wine region in the spring of 2021. During this trip, they can meet winegrowers, visit estates of the Lussac Saint-Emilion, Puisseguin Saint-Emilion, Saint-Emilion et Saint-Emilion Grand Cru appellations and take part in guided tastings.
“This is a wonderful experience for our future sommeliers. It will be a big boost to their jobs as influencers”, says Valérie Danan. “
“By going to Saint-Emilion, we’ll finally see something theoretical come to life. We can’t wait to get there!” says Lucie Laplace.
So, the best is yet to come for the two tied classes. The 15 other participating schools will enjoy a class on Saint-Emilion wines hosted by an accredited tutor.