Allegrini 2018

The pandemic has also changed the training of sommeliers and wine lovers

Ais, Onav, and Fisar invest in online, without renouncing to high quality, overcoming borders. Fondazione Italiana Sommelier (Fis) out of the chorus
At Fondazione Italiana Sommelier (Fis) in Rome lessons in presence

If today the culture of wine is much more spread and evolved than in the past, most of the merit is theirs: sommeliers and their associations. Common goals of all schools and organizations of sommeliers and tasters have always been, in fact, the spreading of the culture of wine and food through high level training courses, the organization of national and international events in order to know and deepen all the aspects and sectors of this world: from production to tasting, from service to matching with food, from native grapes to be rediscovered to new trends in the glass.
With the pandemic, lacking for a long time in-person activities, the various associations have had to review all their proposals and training methods. However, their reactions have been different: some, despite the difficulties of the moment, have decided to invest by expanding their locations to have more space, others have decided to qualify even more the training offered by managing to expand their audience beyond national borders, or those who just did not want to know about doing online activities. In order to better understand the different paths taken, the consequences and the perspectives for the next autumn, which is still so uncertain, we talked to the top managers of the major Italian sommelier associations, from Associazione Italiana Sommelier (Ais) to Fondazione Italiana Sommelier (Fis), from Onav-Organizzazione Nazionale Assaggiatori di Vino, to Fisar - Federazione Italiana Sommelier Albergatori e Ristoratori.
As Antonello Maietta, president of Ais - Associazione Italiana Sommelier explains, “Ais has never stopped, in fact, in the midst of the pandemic, it has decided to invest in a new location in Milan, which will become a sort of hub - soon to be opened - of wine and food, with large classrooms, kitchen, bar, where students will be able to attend lessons in safety and experience live what they will learn in the classroom.
I would like to underline - continues Maietta - that, thanks to an internal regulation of Ais, teachers and all the staff will be vaccinated in order to transmit a greater sense of trust and responsibility to new members as well”.
The desire to find new stimuli for members was also underlined by Francesco Iacono, director of ONAV (Organizzazione Nazionale Assaggiatori di Vino): “a small part of our members refused online activities, while most of them welcomed, with great enthusiasm, webinars, as we aimed at increasing the level of our didactic offer, starting collaborations with the Universities of Turin, Milan, Piacenza, creating, for example, the cycle of lessons “Science tells you about it”. Strengthened by the success we obtained - says Iacono - we decided to continue investing not only in the lessons in presence in Onav’s locations spread all over the country, but especially in online training - as we had the chance to reach more members in Italy and not only, offering courses to Italian wine lovers but living outside”.
“The online courses have given the opportunity to invest on projects of wide international scope thanks to the collaborations with Universities in South America” - also underlines Luigi Terzago, Fisar (Federazione Italiana Sommelier Albergatori e Ristoratori): “after 24 hours from the communication of the closure of all the activities on March 9, 2020 - continues Terzago - Fisar was already ready to guarantee the online courses to its members and given the success, despite the reactivation of the in-person courses, we will also continue with the online to address a slice of enthusiasts who for various reasons could not participate in frontal lessons”.
A voice out of the chorus is, instead, the one of Franco Ricci, president of the  Fondazione Italiana Sommelier (Fis), firmly against the activation of online courses: “in 2020 we were able to equip the rooms of the headquarters in the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts in order to be able to welcome 400/450 people per day (including Saturdays). With all these new limitations - continues President Franco Ricci - I see a worse future. We target a very young audience and the Green Pass requirement will definitely penalize them”.
The desire to know and learn about the culture of wine both in presence and online is also supported by numbers, which, on the whole, however hold. Ais, at the end of 2019, counted 40,000 members; today they are around 37,000 but president Maietta is convinced of getting back to the pre-pandemic figure within the year. The same optimism is shared by Fisar president Terzago who, despite having had a drop in enrollments during the pandemic, expects to close 2021 at around 13,000, with a +5%. A positive trend of +7% of members on the forecasts was also recorded by ONAV (which, for internal policy, does not communicate the total number of members, ed), as stated by the director Iacono. On the other hand, the Fondazione Italiana Sommelier (FIS), due to the anti-infection restrictions and the decision not to hold online courses, has recorded a significant drop: compared to almost 23,000 members in 2021, President Ricci foresees only 7,000 in 2022.

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