On July 6, the Wine Travel Awards (WTA) team gathered the award and voting winners, the jury representatives as well as the most active nominees, in a webinar led by Romané Basset, Co-Founding Trustee of the Gérard Basset Foundation, set up to honour the legacy and memory of Gérard Basset. Mr Basset was one of the most experienced and award-winning wine experts in the world, and a holder of the titles of Master Sommelier, Master of Wine, Master Sommelier, as well as Wine MBA and the ASI World Champion. Gérard Basset was a founding partner of the hugely successful Hotel du Vin Group. He also mentored and trained a generation of young sommeliers who sought out his expertise and guidance to launch their own careers. Gérard Basset Foundation was created to address the wine, spirits and hospitality industries’ most pressing issues through education, training and mentorship.
Gérard Basset Foundation is one of WTA’s most active and valuable partners. Due to the personal consent of Monsieur Basset’s family – Mme Nina Basset, the WTA judge, and her son, Mr Romané Basset, starting from this year a special prize from Gérard Basset Foundation is awarded to the voting and jury-selected winner of the Ambassador of the year category (this year‘s winner is Artyom Mkrtchyan, a young and talented sommelier from Armenia).
The aim of the webinar was to help the WTA community members gain valuable insights into the incredible work of the Gérard Basset Foundation as well as the opportunities it offers in the wine market. It was a privilege granted to the core of the WTA community, giving them new opportunities for collaboration with one of the most significant grant organizations at the international wine stage, that were discussed directly with one of the Foundation‘s key people, Romané Basset.
In his opening speech Mr Basset told the participants about the main principles of the Foundation and its activities, focusing strongly on diversity, inclusivity and equal opportunities for those aspiring wine professionals whose physical, financial and other conditions prevent them from pursuing education and career goals in the wine industry. Gérard Basset Foundation has special education and professional training programs for such talented individuals, helping them make their dreams of doing a career in wine business come true.
The webinar for the WTA community members was held in a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere which stimulated communication and exchange of ideas. Romané Basset was also open to answering questions from the audience. In order to fully convey the details and atmosphere of the meeting, we present it in a format close to the transcript.
Salome Lomsadze, Commercial project manager of Shumi Winery, Georgia (note from the editors: Shumi Winery is the 2022-2023 WTA award and voting winner in nine categories, which, in our opinion, is phenomenal!)
“I represent the management of Shumi Winery from Georgia, and my question is, what could be your advice to us regarding raising awareness of Georgian wines in the world?
I’ll tell you a little more about what we do, besides producing wine, of course. For example, we have an ampelographic collection of more than 2,000 grape varieties from around the world, including more than 400 indigenous Georgian ones. The idea of such a collection was born in the 90s, it belonged to my father, who really wanted to bring Georgia, our heritage and culture, to a new level after the period of withdrawal from the USSR. At that time, many of the local varieties of grapes had died out, they were practically impossible to find in Georgia, because they did not give enough volume to the economy. As a result of many years of efforts of my family, the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization assigned us a number – G036. I believe that this is one of the pieces of evidence that today we have a unique object that needs to be taken care of and told about. Our current situation is different from Georgia in the 90s, when people did not even have enough food, not to mention decent wine, but we are still facing many problems, maybe not as much financial ones, but some white spots remain, including education. At Shumi we have ampelographic collections, an interesting tourist complex – with an active marani cellar with qvevri, we have a wine museum with real unique artifacts, we popularize the history of Georgian culture, which is already 8000 years old. But… Today, many have learned that winemaking originates from Georgia, but not everyone even knows where it is. Sometimes when I say that I’m from Georgia, it’s not that they don’t ask me questions about how I’m related to wine – sometimes they even ask, “Where is Georgia?” Not everybody is even familiar with such a country. So how can I be useful in this? I have a hospitality background, and I would like to use my effort efficiently, to make Georgia more interesting, and to tell about our culture and our winemaking traditions.
Romané Basset: “Thank you for your question and for explaining the context. From my point of view, Georgia deserves more attention and I am also trying to help raise the flag of Georgian wines. I confess, I am a big fan of Georgian wines, even at my university I organized a tasting of these wines, which, I must state, was a success. We presented eight wines – three red and five orange ones, so it was indeed a successful selection… And I believe that now is the moment when you can take significant steps to promote Georgian wine and Georgia as a whole. Besides, you are already on the right track. And I am pleased to be able to speak on this matter. After all, the key point here is to enlighten the world about your country. When I talk about education, I mean two aspects. First, the process requires studying special literature, teaching people about the technical aspects of Georgian wine – explaining what makes it unique, telling the story, providing academic data, which can be included, for example, in the WSET textbook. And the second thing you mentioned is the tourist aspect. I am sure it is one of the most important tools. I will give an example – in February I had to observe one experiment. Several people from the wine world were discussing sales. Among them was the Spanish sommelier Ferran Centelles, and his task was to sell a bottle of Dom Perignon to the guests. The study participants were connected to a brain scanner. And Ferran was selling the wine in two ways. The first, a very classic sales pitch – like “hello, I’m Ferran Centelles, I’ll be your sommelier today…”. He then gave another presentation that was much more personal, with details. He talked about his visits to the Perignon House and a tour of the vineyard. And it is surprising: in the vast majority of participants of the second presentation, when the sommelier accompanied the story with personal impressions from visits to the House, it caused pleasure, which affected the brain much more than in the first case. So if you invite people to Georgia and show them how you make wine, tell them about the traditions and culture, you will get more results.
I have never been to Georgia, but my father worked a lot with your winemakers. And I definitely know of one of our fellows from Georgia who just graduated and has now become a great advocate of Georgian wine. So I think that another important perspective for you is to educate people and turn them into ambassadors. I also believe that it is necessary to invite professionals from the world of wine: invite the sommeliers to visit the winery, taste the wines, see what you are doing. Then they return to their restaurants, add Georgian wines to their wine lists and share their personal impressions of the visit with their guests. And all this information accumulates, concentrates. I think then it will make Georgian wine more famous on the world stage… I don’t know if this is exactly what you are looking for, but that’s how I see it.”
Begoña Fernández Benítez, education coordinator of the wine tourism School of Catalonia in Vilafranca del Penedès, located in Barcelona, Spain:
“Some of you probably know me because this is the second year we have worked together with Wine Travel Awards. By the way, our school currently has three students from Georgia, and eight more Georgian applicants have submitted their documents for the new year. We have a formal training course that lasts two years: a theoretical one, based on wine tourism, and the second one is a contracted and paid winery training. We believe that this is the perfect educational balance. Also, in addition to the basic course, we are developing separate courses with a shorter training period. Can we create some synergy with the Foundation?”
Romané Basset: “My Godfather, Franck Massard, makes wine in Catalonia. So I’ve had the good fortune to visit him a couple of times and experience some wine tourism in Catalonia. I think you’re doing a very good job! In terms of collaboration, this is what we could do. I mentioned the grantees whereby we work with groups who are local to an area and we give them something to their projects. At the end of this month we’re going to be opening applications for funding for this year. When we do this, we ask the groups who apply to explain a bit about what they do, whether they’ve worked in any capacity with the ideas of diversity and inclusion before. And then if they have, what projects have they done, if they haven’t – what are they hoping to do. As an applicant you have to suggest an idea for a collaboration. I’ll give you an example. We do a project in France in wine school whereby we found two projects. One of them is a week’s introduction to sommelliery for people who can’t afford wine education but want to work with wine. Another course is for people with difficult economic circumstances to do a six week training, this is an intermediate level. So you see that there’s the educational component that’s essential. And there also has to be an aspect of diversity and inclusion for people who, as I said earlier have circumstances which stop them from trying. You are welcome to apply, and so are other groups who would be interested in doing a project with us. We are open to applications from the end of July, closing in September, so you have plenty of time.”
Nataliia Burlachenko, ambassador of Vinos de la Luz, CEO Big Wines:
“We are a young project in Ukraine, we’ve had our first Ukrainian release in 2023, however our premiere wine has already won a few medals from prestigious international competitions. We would be more than happy to suggest our wine as a lot for the future events held by the Foundation. For us it will be an honor to support the project. Our wine has a story behind it, and we’d be really delighted to be part of the inspiring projects of Gérard Basset Foundation.
Romané Basset: “Thank you very much for that kind offer, Natalia. And also thank you very much for thinking of wanting to help us when you’ve got everything going on in your country at the moment. The fact that you’re willing to think of helping us despite the challenges of war means a lot, so thank you very much! I can get in touch with you and explain how it works with the auction and we can look at ways on maybe incorporating your wine, because that would be very special, so thank you. I’ve recently seen that Ukrainian wine is getting more prominent in the UK. For example, I have a good friend living in the UK, actually, she’s a Ukrainian sommelier. And now she’s actually got a section of the wine list in the restaurant she works in, where she shows Ukrainian wines. And I know at the London Wine Fair this year the Ukrainian wine stand got lots of visitors, so we are becoming more aware of it here, which I think it’s very good. So we are open for collaborations, and I will get back to you about that.”
Victoria Makarova, WTA discovery editor:
“ My question also relates to have Ukrainian wines. Wines of Ukraine have been doing quite a lot at the international stage recently. We’ve been participating in ProWine fair, in London Wine fair, various other International events. And representatives of Ukraine have been doing a lot of wine tastings for experts, professionals and wine lovers in Europe, as well as in the UK. But I understand that we have a big need for recruiting more ambassadors at the international stage, and this is exactly what Wine Travel Awards are working on. Do you think Gérard Basset Foundation might in any way help us engage such people?”
Romané Basset: “We are a registered charity under UK law, and the regulations governing charities in the UK are very strict. As such, our mandate is crystal clear: to promote diversity and inclusion in the wine and hospitality industry through education and training. Consequently, we must be very specific about the projects we can financially support. Regarding the educational aspect of introducing Ukrainian wines to the world, I believe there is an optimal approach we can take. We should consider funding opportunities for ambassadors of Ukrainian wine, enabling them to gain valuable experience and knowledge. This, in turn, would allow them to effectively promote Ukrainian wines by utilizing their acquired skills. For example, we could explore the possibility of contributing to their training expenses.
I am confident that the awareness of Ukrainian wines among the people in the UK has increased significantly and will continue to grow. Ukraine presents a remarkable opportunity for promotion due to its winemakers’ proficiency in both Western winemaking techniques, akin to the French classics, and an oriental style reminiscent of Georgian wines. This unique combination can truly capture people’s interest.”
As a conclusion, Mr Basset expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the organizers of the meeting with the Wine Travel Awards community. “It has been an enlightening and inspiring experience,” he said.
In the meantime, the WTA team is immensely grateful to Romané Basset for sharing a couple of hours with our community and for inspiring us to explore the opportunities provided by Gérard Basset Foundation. To be continued!