As members of a professional category know, they need to take a state exam and be certified in order to practice. In Italy, this is true not only for lawyers and doctors but also journalists. A degree from a university, no matter how prestigious it may be, is not enough but is a prerequisite to be able to take the state exam. Once certified, a professional can then join a sector association or union.
This is not the case for a sommelier in Italy. There are various associations that certify them, national ones like Ais, Fisa, Aspi and Ars, as well as local ones that issue diplomas. Many of these, but not all, are recognized by law and each association tends to not recognize the validity certificates issued by the others. There is no single, professional order they can join and no specific state, standardized exam. Given all the confusion this creates, isn’t time to straighten things out by adopting serious and precise regulations, by law, to govern the sector once and for all? And first among these shouldn’t there be a clear definition of who should be considered a professional sommelier?
Outside Italy, in France, Britain and the United States, sector associations bring together most of the sector professionals who actually practice their profession. For the wine sector this includes those responsible for wine in restaurants and wine shops, buyers, importers, distributors, those who teach wine appreciation and even those who write about wine. Only these people can be considered true professionals, a sommelier, while the others are just wine lovers and consumers.
In Italy it is a different story. A sommelier can be someone who does not practice the profession, has no intention of doing so or to even work in the sector but has obtained a diploma. This does not mean, however, that a ‘normal’ person should not be able to take courses that will allow them to take the state exam. There are a lot of lawyers and journalists who, for example, maintain their titles while working in other fields. What is means is that a cursus honorum should be completed in full and the right to practice the profession can only come after passing a state exam, after which one can use the title or wear the uniform. In the case of the sommelier, the exam should be as serious and difficult as those to become a professional journalist or lawyer in order to ensure that the candidate is, in fact, a true expert and has the necessary training that is not just theoretical but also practical. Otherwise if the final certification process is too easy and not regulated by specific state laws it will mean nothing. In others words anyone could be a sommelier, ‘todos sommelieros’, pardon my Spanish, which does little justice to those who really practice this function in a professional and sincere way.