Nataliya Blagopoluchna, who together with her husband Mykola founded the All-Ukrainian Association of Winemakers and Sommeliers, as well as the First Sommelier School “Master Class” in Ukraine, which has been operating since 2000, shared with the WTA community her impressions of winning the international Wine Travel Awards and talked about activities that her family has been carrying out despite the war. The First Sommelier School “Master Class” in Ukraine became the only WTA nominee from Ukraine who gained a victory in the 2021-2022 WTA edition.
The Sommelier School “Master Class” became the WTA winner in the Education in Enotourism nomination in the category of “Unique program”. Please accept our most sincere congratulations! What does this victory mean to you?
When I was informed that our Sommelier School won, I just had tears in my eyes! To be honest, I did not expect that we would become winners. After all, if I am not mistaken, more than two hundred nominees from the leading and world-famous wine-producing countries – France, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova – took part in the competition for such award… I believe that this happened due to honest and unbiased attitude on the part of the reputable jury, which included judges of international level …I was impressed that Felicity Carter, a leading specialist in wine journalism, whom we don’t know personally, gave us the win. This is a great achievement and a high appreciation of many years of our work.
The first year edition attracted many nominees from Ukraine, some of them got recognition at the popular vote, but the Sommelier School “Master Class” became the only WTA winner from Ukraine. In your opinion, what differs you from other schools? What features helped you to stand out at the professional jury vote?
The First in Ukraine Sommelier School “Master Class” is the only establishment in the country having the License of the Ministry of Education of Ukraine for course training of the “Sommelier” profession. The school is the absolute pioneer in this profession in Ukraine.
I think our training program in the Sommelier School is one of the factors that brought us to victory as it has the largest volume curriculum in Ukraine. It consists of a course of theoretical studies (lectures and seminars), a course of practical studies on the basics of wine service and etiquette, tasting sessions, creative work of students in preparation of topical abstracts (three abstracts per one training course – the regions of Bordeaux, Champagne, Cognac), making their own wine list.
The training program includes well-known wine countries and regions of the world, spirits of the world, cheeses and cigars, basics of the wine service and etiquette, organization of customer service in restaurants, practical tasting sessions, basics of sensor analysis, management and marketing of drinks, work with modern wine accessories, development of smell and taste, and so on.
The Sommelier School pays great attention to organizing meetings of its students with winemakers of Ukraine and the world, best sommeliers of Ukraine graduated from the Sommelier School, so far as such meetings prepare students for their practical work as sommeliers.
We know that you continue your activities even now, during the war. How are the things going? Are the classes still in demand?
Because of the war, we are now working in an online format, and have already conducted an introductory theoretical course on terroirs, countries, and varieties. We promise students that as soon as there is an opportunity, we will do offline tastings on the topics that we have already reviewed.
Who are your current students? Are these people related to winemaking, wine boutiques, HoReCa?
We always have numerous students who have never been involved in these fields in any manner whatsoever. Now, our students are mainly ladies who are located in different countries, where they went after the war start, looking for shelter and safety. I would also like to emphasize that all our graduates of previous years who went abroad are working within their specialty! For example, in Portugal, there are three persons who are employed in the production of port wines. In Poland, a mother of three children has been working in a restaurant, another one of our graduates has been working in a bar in France.
We saw a message on FB that you also conduct corporate trainings. It is truly a feat to give lectures at such times.
Yes, even now, in addition to online courses, we conduct offline training for the personnel of the distribution company “Privat-Alko”, whose managers have been undergoing an intensive training course with us. We have a lot to do, but the only thing that matters now is peace and quiet outside the window. It is difficult to adjust lecturing to sirens, but if we sit back and do nothing, this will definitely be the last straw.
Our optimistic editorial board absolutely shares your approach: don’t give up and don’t stop! What projects do you plan to implement in the near future?
This year, we hope that we will conduct the anniversary XX All-Ukrainian Sommelier Competition, which is usually held in November. We are absolutely ready for it. Partners are ready, including our long-standing friends Vinos de La Luz group and permanent information partner Drinks+; there is a platform, there are new value propositions and ideas, interesting competitive tours… May peace come! For now, everything is on hold, including the All-Ukrainian Wine Tasting Competition “Variety and Terroir”, which was planned to take place in Odesa in March. But we are not abandoning our plans and hope that we will implement everything that we planned this year. We are proud of what we have already achieved and we are not going to stop!
May all your plans and most ambitious dreams come true! And most importantly – may our Victory and Peace come!