Words by Lim Hwee Peng
A groundbreaking initiative cannot simply created out of the blue. Lim Hwee Peng CWE, FWS shares how a personal encounter led him to embark on an industry-wide undertaking; crossed path with many industry giants; and engaging one trailblazing entity that ultimately led to the Wine Specialist 4.0.
Wine is a complex subject to talk about during any encounter. But it becomes complicated when one tries to explain the ins and outs of the wine industry to elderly folks—who have zero exposure to the product and vocation.
I have a firsthand encounter with such scenario, when I met my then girlfriend’s parents for the first time, and the conversation gradually moved to what I did for a living. For their generation, wine is no different from beer, stout, spirits, whisky, brandy, etc. They belong to the alcohol family. And in their unexposed mind, jobs associated with ‘alcohol’ tend to be viewed with caution.
So you guessed it correctly, my meet the parents did not exactly take off in a blast. I walked away from it wondering whether I have wrecked my marriage plan, as I was unable to respond confidently and convincingly on my chosen career. It made me ponder on what could be done for the wine trade to be viewed positively, seriously, as well as not being perceived as seedy. And in hindsight, that incident was perhaps the genesis of a self-appointed mission to work towards a change for the wine profession.
Pivoting From Job to Profession
In the initial phases, I have attempted to leverage on my embarrassing meet the parents story to perhaps start a conversation on making changes. When all I could illicit was merely loads of laughter from the sharing, it then dawned on me I will need to think harder to have a better response. So in one enlightening moment, I came to realise that since talk is cheap, the most efficient way to start and lead any reasonable change in an industry is to show how it can be done.
The adage: to lead by example, set me on a path to upskill my professional knowledge and skillsets. Six years later, my professionalism has been certified by multiple international wine bodies. And when an opportunity to offer a wine course, from one that I have graduated, was made available, I took it and worked tirelessly to pitch it to the industry practitioners.
The program has now become one of the more well-supported wine courses in the Singapore wine industry. Through the years of engaging the industry practitioners, we have observed that there were gaps from the different stages of a professional’s growth to be addressed, hence we started to introduce new and relevant wine programs.
Wine regional visits, harvest internship, as well as advanced wine programs hosted in a wine region were also added so as to encourage advancement in learning. Such engagements have inevitably helped to shape minds, build confidence and make a difference in a professional’s career growth.
On the Shoulders of Giants
Unknown to many, for each new initiative that we offered to the market, it was made possible by many giants’ shoulders that we were granted to stand on, so as to have access to unique opportunities. Many benefactors in Singapore, the South East Asian region, as well as the international wine arena were the architects responsible for plenty of wine activities that we have initiated. Each and every one of the supporters were encouraging and generous. Some even became a mentor in guiding us how best to influence minds and beliefs in a traditional industry.
The Employment & Employability Institute (e2i) was one such keen supporters. Mr Tan Wee How, Assistant Director, Consumer Services, e2i, was instrumental in launching several initiatives, including funding support schemes that benefitted hundreds of professionals in the wine and related industries. Under the leadership of Tan, competently executed by his team members, many activities caught the attention of the wine and related trade sectors. Such as the monthly Wine Kung Fu series that was created to engage the industry-wide practitioners, who may not have the opportunity to get up close with wine learning.
And to further engage key decision-makers in F&B and wholesale sectors, the Certificate in Wine Studies (CWS) program was organized to offer a strong knowledge foundation for participants to be ‘Wine Smarter’ in their wine buying and management role.
Mr Steven Chen, Director of Operations, Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts Holdings is one such beneficiaries of e2i’s activities. After successfully completed the CWS Program, Chen shared, “As a trade professional, the CWS program is a competently executed wine course. The information is superbly easy to internalise, as compare to other wine courses that require a good dose of knowledge prior to enrolment”.
The best takeaway for Chen was the ease in comprehending complex information, and ability to apply the gained knowledge on his daily operation wine matters. Chen continues, “The application-focus of CWS program is also suitable for busy professionals, as information is presented in bite size, supplemented by easy-to-understand information without complex technical jargons.”
Equipping professionals with a firm footing in knowledge was an important step in enhancing wine professionalism; yet, a clearly defined designation of the vocation was vital.
Specialist or Sommelier?
It is commonly misconstrued that a wine professional is a sommelier. The truth is a sommelier is a beverage specialist, with wine being one of the many beverages that a sommelier is expected to master and manage. Also, a sommelier is gainfully employed in an operational role for an F&B establishment; i.e. working on the floor, day in and out, taking care of services on wines and other alcohol and non-alcohol beverages. It is a challenging role that will require dedication and commitment.
(More information on the role of a sommelier is well illustrated in information found in this link: https://sommeliers.com.au/about/what-is-a-sommelier/ )
But the makeup of the industry far exceeds sommeliers. Hence, it is vital that the growth of professionals toiling in the wine retail, sales, marketing, logistics responsible for inventory control, wine buyers, and even food & wine media, as well as lecturers in hospitality and food institutions, must be looked into.
Tan and his team at e2i dealt head-on with those issues, and after much considerations and consultations, appropriately designated ‘Wine Specialist’ as the vocation, because it is inclusive and applicable to many direct and indirect roles that manage, purchase, market, sell, and educate wines.
The e2i team next embarked on supporting wine courses that fit into the wine specialist vocation, such as the Certified Specialist of Wines and French Wine Scholar programs, which have seen at least 600 graduates of the two programs in our market.
One such wine professional is Mr Patrick Sng CSW, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Straits Wines Company Pte. Ltd., who felt that ‘confidence’ was the best outcome from his enrolment in the rigorous wine specialist course.
“As a Certified Wine Specialist, I am assured when charting the vision and growth for my business. Also, many day-to-day decisions were made from a sound and knowledge-driven considerations.” Said Sng.
The Quantum Leap for Wine Specialists
e2i made a quantum jump in their contribution to the growth of wine specialist vocation, by establishing the Wine Specialist 4.0. This pioneering framework aims to assist and equip professionals in the wine and related fields to competently manage and cope with the advent of Industry 4.0. And as a wine specialist and a business operator, Sng felt that such industry enterprise can be beneficial, especially when there are appropriate strategies and activities plan around the vocation.
Sng shared his views, “The Wine Specialist 4.0 must be able to draw on the support of the broader eco-system, be it locally, regionally and internationally; with such backing, it can empower our next generation of wine specialists to spread their wings on the global stage.”
I started an aspiration with a simple goal, to elevate the status of wine trade. It is now apparent that the envisioned change not only have taken on a definite form and shape, it has also started to grow in tandem with the market dynamics. With the arrival of Wine Specialist 4.0, the transformation in the wine industry is now gradually shaping into a long runway.
And as long as wine specialists are actively partaking in their professional growth, they will be able to grow in multiple directions, as far and wide as their aspirations can take them to. I am now pretty assured that when the next wine specialist were to meet the parents, their confidence in their chosen profession will be a source of pride, and not of doubts and suspicions.