Battle of the Academicians

Do you need a license to make love? A diploma to become a dad? A certificate to call yourself a chef? Authority to become an artist? So why is the world of wine so obsessed with “qualifications?” Heck many of the Cape’s best winemakers like Arco Laarman (Glen Carlou) and Johan Kruger (Sterhuis) are self-taught and exactly what vinous qualifications do commentators like John Platter and Michael Fridjhon have?

Yet the battle for the big bucks of wine learners has been joined. In the red corner, former wine bar proprietor turned vinous wordsmith Cathy Marston is offering WSET courses which she tweets are the only qualifications with international recognition. In the white corner, the Cape Wine Academy offers various diplomas with the Cape Wine Master ticket, top of the pops.

ln 300x225 Battle of the Academicians

Artist and winelover Luan Nel and CWA Principal Marilyn Cooper at the 2011 Soweto Wine Festival

The CWA seems to have stolen a march on the competition with the bombshell that the Department of Tourism and Hospitality and the Expanded Public Works Program are to train 200 Wine Advisors – level 1 Sommeliers – in the Cape and Gauteng regions.

Tuition is presumably free, an attractive option when competing commercial courses can cost thousands. The fine print to the CWA offering explains the rush for certificates: “all candidates must have been unemployed for at least a year and be between the ages of 18-34 years. The training centres will include Soweto, Tembisa, Randburg, Mitchells Plain, Gugulethu and Langa.” Employment seems to be a powerful incentive to get qualified.

On paper the CWA program looks much more in-depth than the controversial WOSA Fundi Project to train 2010 sommeliers in time for the soccer World Cup and the boozy weekend Tasting Academy run under the auspices of the University of Cape Town. Urban legend insists that Fundi’s main claim to fame was using the lion’s share of a donation from the Winelands Municipality on a party to launch the project. Or perhaps this was the practical part of the course!

The year-long CWA program “will include the Wine Service, Preliminary, Certificate and Wines of the World courses and will incorporate four six-week practical work segments in the wine industry. This placement will include restaurants, distributors, and front of house, retailers and supermarkets.”