Meet South Africa’s Best Young Sommelier 2019

Laurie Cooper now holds the title Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier  Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier 2019 winner, Laurie C...

Laurie Cooper now holds the title Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier 

Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier 2019 winner, Laurie Cooper, with Barry Scholfield and Patrick Leslie 
Laurie Cooper has been crowned Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier 2019. At age 28, she is the winemaker and sommelier at Abingdon Wine Estate in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the first family-owned estate to produce wines from the province. Together with her father, she runs all the viticulture and viniculture on the 4 hectare estate.

Laurie is a WSET Diploma graduate and, at age 24, founded the KZN School of Wine in January 2015. She is the head lecturer at the school, a SASA Level 2 certified sommelier and a year one Master of Wine student. Laurie is a distinction graduate from the Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy and has served as a judge for the SAA wines selection panel as well as the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show and London based IWSC. She works alongside the South African Sommeliers Association and Department of Tourism in training up young sommeliers across South Africa, overseeing the KZN division.

Founded in 2017 in collaboration with the South African SommeliersAssociation, the Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier competition has become a prestigious appointment for the next generation of professional sommeliers, now held every two years.

If I had to sum up the Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier competition experience in one word it would be, progress. It makes me so proud to see not only the improvement in number and quality of sommeliers participating year on year but also in the quality of the actual competition thanks to my follow board members’ tireless hard work and the generosity of our sponsors. Thank you.”, says Barry Scholfield, Chairman of the Board of the South African Sommeliers Association.

Winner Laurie of Abingdon Wine Estate as well as runners-up Tayla Kirschner of the Sommeliers Academy and Le Roi van de Vyver from Belthazar Restaurant & Wine Bar endured four rounds of rigorous theoretical tests and were judged by an expert panel on their ability to taste and identify wine and spirits as well as social skills, the ability to interact with the patron, standard service tasks, such as decanting service or sparkling wine service. The semi-finals and finals took place in Cape Town, hosting participants from all over South Africa.
All the competitors in the 2019 Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier Competition
In addition to service excellence Laurie, Tayla and Le Roi displayed good local and international wine knowledge in terms of styles, region, terminology, regulations, storage, viticulture and vinification, as well as knowledge of beers, ciders, spirits, water, coffee and tea. Competitors were also tested on social skills as well as their ability to interact with patrons. High profile judges included: 
  • Lloyd Jusa, Head Sommelier and Director of The Saxon Collection Wine Programme
  • Germaine Esau, the Chef de Cuisine for Myoga Restaurant at The Vineyard Hotel
  • Wikus Human, Sommelier at Marble Restaurant and winner of the 2017 Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier Competition
  • Barry Scholfield, President of The South African Sommelier Association and partner in Somm Hospitality Enterprises
  • Cathy Marston, Master of Wine Student, owner of the International Wine Education Centre and provider of WSET education in Southern Africa
  • Joakim Blackadder Immenkamp, Winner of the Gaggenau Sommelier Awards 2018 and partner in Somm Hospitality Enterprises
By claiming the title of Moet Best Young Sommelier 2019, Laurie has secured a coveted all-expenses paid trip to France to visit the Moët & Chandon Maison in Champagne, followed by a week-long visit to Barolo in Italy during July 2020 and participation in the Collisioni Festival Progetto Vino. Accommodation, meals, winery visits and seminars are all included. The winner also receives a bursary for WSET education from the IWEC, a Coravin and a coveted opportunity to compete in the Moët & Chandon Best Sommelier South Africa challenge in 2020. And of course a Jeroboam (3 litre) of Moët & Chandon to toast to her celebratory #moëtmoment!

SA’s Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier 2019 crowned 

Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier 2019 Winner, Laurie Cooper
We caught up with Laurie Cooper, the woman in the spotlight who has been named Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier 2019. Founded in 2017 the Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier competition has become a prestigious appointment for the next generation of professional sommeliers, now held every two years. 

By claiming this prestigious title, Laurie has secured a coveted all-expenses paid trip to France to visit the Moët & Chandon Maison in Champagne. This will be followed by a week-long visit to Barolo, Italy, where along with a select global group they will participate in the inaugural Collisioni. Accommodation, meals, winery visits and seminars are all included. The winner also receives a bursary for WSET education from the IWEC and a coveted opportunity to compete in the Moët & Chandon Best Sommelier South Africa challenge in 2020. And of course a magnum of Moët & Chandon to toast to her celebratory #moëtmoment!

Q: How did your wine journey begin and what have been the defining moments thus far?

A: My wine journey began in London. I was working in a corporate office job and needed a way to end the day on a good note. I enrolled on the WSET wine courses and fell in love with the world of wine. Upon winning a scholarship for the WSET diploma sparkling wine module, I decided to move back to South Africa and make wine a full-time career. Winning a scholarship for sparkling wine was a defining moment as it was the precise moment when one realises both passion and talent. It cemented my love for the wine industry and more specifically for bubbles!

Q: How has this competition impacted you as a young sommelier?

A: I have learnt so much through the whole process. Each step is a learning curve as to how to present yourself, calm your nerves, perform under pressure and how to train and encourage others in the industry in the future. It has been an incredible journey.

Q: What were some of the theoretical and practical aspects of winemaking addressed in this competition?

A: To be a successful sommelier, all aspects of wine should be considered. It is important to understand different climates, grape varieties, soils and wine making techniques in order to succeed. This is tested throughout the competition by commenting on oak regime, climate and knowledge of old-world regions and the styles of wine they produce.

Q: As the winner, you have been awarded an opportunity to compete in the Moët & Chandon Best Sommelier South Africa challenge. How does a young sommelier prepare for such an event?

A: Practice, research, learn, practice, repeat. There are so many inspiring sommeliers in SA and the industry is incredibly supportive. I am lucky to be able to learn from the best and absorb as much as I can from the SASA members.

Q: Let us in on some of your favourite food & wine pairings?

A: Luckily, two of my most favourite things are Champagne and oysters. As classic as it is, it is well known for a reason. I’m a sucker for all seafood and bubbly!

Q: As a young sommelier, what are the other achievements you strive towards in your wine career?

A: I have been accepted onto the Master of Wine programme this year. This will be the focus of my career in the coming years. My biggest passion is to get KZN on par with the rest of South Africa in terms of wine knowledge and service. I would love to train an army of certified sommeliers!

Q: What is your favourite memory of wine?

A: I remember tasting the first bottle of wine my parents ever made at Abingdon Estate, a 2007 Syrah/Cabernet blend that made history as the first certified Estate Wine to come out of KZN. I was incredibly proud of what they had achieved against all odds and wanted to make sure the legacy lived on. I moved back to SA from London to join the family business and start a career in wine.

Q: What are you excited to experience in the Champagne region?

A: I cannot wait!! Sparkling wine as a category has always been my passion and forte. It is a dream come true to be able to experience champagne with such a phenomenal brand as Moët & Chandon.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring sommeliers?

A: Just do it! When you doubt yourself and your nerves take over, enter the competitions, take the exams, grow. You will never know what you can achieve until you put yourself to the test. Each journey is a learning curve.

https://sommeliers.org.za/

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