Newsflash: Best Young Sommelier Hails from Banana Country

Laurie Cooper, Best Young Sommelier.

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 Sommeliers Association, 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.

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!

Celebrating the winners in a true #moëtmoment

At the end of the challenging final day of the competition Laurie, Tayla and Le Roi were toasted in a true #moëtmoment of celebration with guests, media and their fellow quarter finalists.

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