In the first year of Amorim’s official partnership with the South African Sommeliers Association (SASA), Jean Vincent Ridon of Sommelier’s Academy won the prestigious Best Sommelier of South Africa 2023 title. The event was at Hazendal Wine Estate, in conjunction with the Star Wist List of the Year South Africa awards.
SASA Chairman Spencer Fondaumiere said, “This is a monumental occasion. Jean Vincent’s victory, after four attempts, serves as a lesson in perseverance, determination and self-belief. He has contributed significantly to our industry, and his success will undoubtedly inspire many. Congratulations to him and to all the semifinalists, as well as the other two finalists. Each has an inspiring story. I would like to thank the SASA team for delivering a world-class event at a world-class venue.”
Competition was fierce, with Laurie Cooper of Abingdon Wine Estate in KZN securing the runner-up position and Tapiwa Jamu of Ivory Manor Boutique Hotel in Pretoria coming in third.
The judging panel included esteemed figures such as Jo Wessels, the world’s seventh-best sommelier; Wikus Human of Marble and Saint Restaurants and 2021 Best Sommelier of South Africa; Wayve Kolevsohn of The Royal Portfolio; and Chef Callan Austin of Dusk Restaurant.
SASA General Manager Erica Taylor, who organized the event, said, “The talent displayed today was absolutely world-class. This competition not only highlighted individual excellence but also emphasizes South Africa’s growing prominence in the global wine and hospitality sectors.”
Ridon will receive an array of distinguished prizes, including the inaugural Michael Ratcliffe Award, a Coravin from Great Domaines, brandy from the SA Brandy Foundation, a €5,000 grant from the IWSC, an invitation to judge at the IWSC in London in 2024, and wines from Stellenbosch Wine Routes and our media partner Wine.co.za.
Ridon – or JV as he is known in local wine circles – is an institution in the Cape wine industry where he has built up a reputation in the fields of winemaking, education, sommelier training as well as annually leading the South African team to the World Wine Tasting Championships in France as coach. He is also an integral part of the Amorim Recorking Clinic where he has assisted Amorim in recorking many of the Cape’s historical old wines.
JV began working in his father’s restaurant in France, before setting-up his own place in Sancerre where he was chef and sommelier.
On his first trip to South Africa when he came as a flying winemaker in 1996, he fell in love with the vineyards and decided to settle permanently. He created his own wine label, Signal Hill, and consulted for many other projects.
Being a sommelier was so embedded in him that he created the Classic Wine Trophy in 1998, inviting famous sommeliers and chefs to judge the quality of South African wines. In 2013 he created the South African Wine Tasting Championships, qualifying a South African team every year to compete at the World Blind Challenge. He also helped original Team Zimbabwe to participate in their first World Championships in 2017.
Twice a finalist at the Best Sommelier of South Africa, he represented South Africa at the Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa in Vienna in 2017. He was the first ASI Diploma certified sommelier in Africa, and he sits on the exam committee of the ASI, the global association of sommeliers, active across 60 countries.
Joaquim Sá, MD of Amorim Cork, said that Amorim’s involvement with the SA Sommeliers Association stems from the logical association between the cork stopper and the serving of wine in hospitality establishments by knowledgeable sommeliers.
“The cork stopper is the final frontier between the presentation of a bottle of wine in a restaurant and its enjoyment by the patrons at the table,” said Sá. “Just as Amorim has an integral role to play in ensuring the quality and ageability of fine wine, so we support the standards of excellence shown by the sommelier responsible for serving the magical contents of the bottle.
“During the competition to select this year’s best sommelier the practical skills required to enhance the customer experience was evident, reminding one of the integral role sommeliers have in enhancing not only the wine experience but also the image of fine wine. Amorim is proud be associated with this image and experience, as we are the traditional partner to fine wine world-wide.
“I am especially pleased that Jean Vincent won. A consummate professional in all aspects of wine, JV has been a great asset for Amorim in helping with our recorking projects where we have given many old South African wine jewels a new lease on life. He embodies the courtesy, attention to detail and skill of a true wine professional – sommelier and otherwise.”