In just over a week the Somm360 congress is going to hit Montreal, and Montreal’s wine community os never going to be the same again!
We sat down for a chat with organiser Vincent Lafortune in an effort to discover the inspiration behind this enormous project…
Good Food Revolution: Hello Vincent.
Now, what inspired you to organise Somm360?
And when did you first get the idea in your head to take on such an impressive project?
Vincent Lafortune: Back in 2006, the Sommelier bug bit me, and I not only became a passionate Sommelier who enjoyed studying every detail about the Somm world (wine, spirit, sake, beer, tea, coffee, gastronomy, etc.), but also decided to register for a local sommelier competition. The instant gratification after winning the first step of this competition was incredible, all my hard work suddenly paid off. When the competition ended for me after the semi-final, I was devastated and had no network to support me. So, sadly, I quit competing, despite knowing I was a good candidate. But, I committed myself to stay actively supportive in preparing the next generation of restaurant, hotel and tourism professionals.
Equipped with the critical experience of working in the wine industry in North America, and Europe for more than ten years now, and from understanding the growing needs of this industry and how much personal sacrifice it takes to participate in Sommelier competitions (and how obsessed we can be about them), I am launching a program dedicated to every serious wine professional: SOMM360.
The need for more continuous education and specific training for Sommelier competition inspired me to create Somm360. So, for this reason, I wanted to create a community and a program to taste, learn and grow together.
GFR: And what kind of experience did you have with organising events before taking on a project of this scope?
Please tell us a little about your background?
VL: Since 2009, we have organized the international wine & spirits show in Quebec City as well as Quebec Exquis food and wine festival, a culinary event which brings restaurateurs & local producers together, but we also have experience in organizing many trade seminars in North America and tastings for local agents and marketing boards like Austria and the Jura. On top, 2 years ago we started to organize more specific seminars for wine professionals and training sessions for sommeliers to come together and learn for one day from top educators from all around the world.
GFR: I’ve been looking at the program and it’s really quite remarkable.
Surely you can’t be doing all this yourself?
VL: Thank you! I have a great team who supports me and together with our advisory board consisting of Veronique Rivest, Francois Chartier, Jesse Becker MS, Rajat Parr & Alexandre Bilodeau we were able to curate this exciting program with some of the best educators in the world. We are truly very proud of the program this first edition of Somm360 will offer our attendees.
GFR: And please tell us a little about the venue you have chosen, Le Grand Quai?
VL: It’s a very new venue in the heart of Montreal, the Old port. It’s a fantastic location for Somm360 because it’s very centrally located and also offers a lot of natural light which is very important for a wine tasting experience. The location is also very versatile and therefore responds to many of our different needs throughout the week.
GFR: How many participants are you hoping for over the three days of the event?
And where do you see most of them coming from?
VL: We expect 300 industry professionals. 80% are coming from Quebec, 5% from the rest of Canada, 3% from the US, and about 12% from the rest of the world.
GFR: The word Masterclass is bandied about a lot these days… often referring to seminars that are anything but.
In your mind, what makes the sessions at Somm360 true Masterclasses?
VL: The quality and the specificity of its content. Together with our partners, we worked very hard with each presenter to make sure the topics & wines presented offer a new perspective to the audience. You won’t see any generic presentation; each presentation will go right to the topics core.
GFR: And are there any of those that you are particularly looking forward to?
I know that you’ll say “all of them”, but what is getting you seriously excited?
VL: Haha, this is surely a difficult answer because I believe they are all great. But let’s say that I am very proud of our industry sessions called “A glass with…” or “A coffee with…” which will offer special takeaways from top peers like Rajat Parr, Paul Grieco, Terry Kandylis, Greg Lambrecht, Devon Broglie MS, and Fernando Mora MW.
GFR: And which has been the most challenging to organize, logistically and/or otherwise?
VL: Communication. We have so many different program components which can sometime appear confusing. The biggest challenge is to find a way that every serious professional in the world learns about Somm360. I think we are off to a good start, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
GFR: Tell us about the Somm360 Ambassador Club and how you selected the 16 Ambassadors?
VL: Somm360 is a peer to peer event and therefore we wanted to get some respected industry professionals on board with us to help us spread the news about Somm360. We are proud to count Sommeliers in Canada, China, Paris, London, San Francisco, New York, and Mexico to them. We plant to grow as an educational initiative for Sommeliers worldwide so to have these top professionals working with us is a real form of confidence from the industry.
GFR: I like that you have chosen to include Sake., with Francois Chartier no less!
What was your thinking around that?
VL: Again, it’s very important to us to offer something very unique to our audience. So as there is a big focus on wine in our first year, we nether the less wanted to offer insights into other parts of our business. We are very proud to have Francois present this Masterclass as he is the new master-blender of the historic Tanaka Sake Brewery, in Miyagi in Japan.
GFR: And I see you have a session with NYC’s Paul Grieco.
I’m assuming that you have witnessed him in full flow previously? As he can be a real force of nature once he gets going…
VL: Haha, very true. But this is what we want. We want to shake up the industry and bring together different minds so we all can start thinking outside the box for a little bit. And especially with somebody like Paul Grieco, I believe we will fulfil this mission already on the opening day.
GFR: Please tell us all about the Somm360 Boot Camp, as that looks pretty amazing?
VL: We created the Boot Camp because we see there is an increased interest in sommelier competition worldwide but not enough mentorship. This part is very dear to me as I believe that many Sommeliers could benefit more from participating in competition because it brings together the core of our hospitality industry. I see Somm360 as a world-class initiative for the international Sommelier community so in this spirit, we invited 22 of the best Sommeliers from over 20 different countries to come and join us in Montreal for 5 days of specific training. They all received a scholarship which covers their travel expenses and training in Montreal.
GFR: I love the fact that you are closing the congress with a beer tasting seminar.
Please tell us about why you chose to do that?
VL: I think that a lot of wine professionals are beer lovers. Beer is as important as the other topics of the sommelier world. And like you Jamie, after a full day of wine tasting, you enjoy a lot to have a pint of local beer.
GFR: What are you really hoping to achieve with this year’s Somm360?
VL: I want to advance the Sommelier community and help them grow and work closer together. I hope SOMM360 will be seen as a tool for every sommelier in the world who would like to get support in continuing education and training for competition. Its initiative aims to help sommeliers with their goal to obtain their MS or MW, and WSET title or advance in other continuing education programs, as well as to increase the number and the caliber of candidates wishing to partake in sommelier competitions. Furthermore, it will provide a support network of peers and mentors to help sommeliers stay committed to their passion in this ever so demanding and changing hospitality industry. I hope we will be able to support professionals from all over the world in their day-to-day personal development.
GFR: Thanks so much for your time, Vincent, as I know that you must be so busy right now!
SOMM360 is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to support the sommelier industry around the world through continuing education and training support for official competitions. Its purpose is to help sommeliers obtain the MS (Master Sommelier), MW (Master of Wine) or WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) certifications, as well as assisting those who wish to pursue continuing education programs. More details at somm360.co
For more details on SOMM360, please contact: Stephanie Artner, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s always been a huge fan of Vincent!