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Memo From American Sommelier Certification: Paper Thin

Posted on  | February 20, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Knowledge and practical experience are not easily qualified.

Andrew Bell, co-founder and President of American Sommelier

With so much ado about certification in recent blogs and articles, I feel compelled to contribute a couple of thoughts.

As a founder of an academic organization with a group of like-minded sommeliers, we started out with a certification level. We believed that we were training young minds to be open to the work-based passion that we position as the beverage side of the hospitality business. We were acting in good faith.

But over the last few years, we at American Sommelier have dropped the certification as we felt it misrepresented the level of academic knowledge—never mind the complete lack of accounting for on-the-job experience. There was, additionally, concern about the legal implications of using the term “certified.”

American Sommelier is a nomad-like school; teaching in on-premise locations to conform to SLA laws, not easy! We are not an accredited school, but we teach, we train, we find students jobs. We believe we create a bar of academic rigor that sets the standard for restaurants looking for qualified academic sommeliers with varying degrees of experience. Our goal is to incorporate practical experience in how to do the job of a sommelier, in addition to knowing about wine. Certification is a word, not a competence level! Moreover, it is not the essence of the topic. Education is the real underlying issue.

I truly believe that striving for and realizing an education is a difficult task. We look to provide a basis, a launch pad, a pilot light from which inner passion is born. We don’t always succeed, but we are always attempting to guide our students and members along their own discovery road of passion and enjoyment and success in the hospitality business.

Job Factor

The word certification brings with it a bevy of inferences and assumptions that do not necessarily correspond with a person’s experience. Certification is a designation based on a documented series of levels of academic rigor attained, with minimum criteria to achieve said certification. This affirmation must include practical application in the field for which the person is being certified.

Interestingly, another definition for certification (in the Princeton University online dictionary) is associated with “authentication, validating the authenticity of something or someone.” This definition, while sound, does not account for the recipient’s ability to execute his/her job responsibilities well, which normally requires oversight and years of experience.

Every great U.S. sommelier likely had (or has) a mentor; those who were not that fortunate needed to find their own way in a very difficult industry. Certification is a piece of paper. Passion is a fire. Which would you prefer?


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