The Buyer
How sommeliers can sign up for new Rioja Somm’er School

How sommeliers can sign up for new Rioja Somm’er School

Rioja is one of the world’s most well-known, respected and popular wine regions with wines from Rioja often appearing on wine lists up and down the country. But how well do sommeliers and restaurateurs really know what is going on in the region? Well the Rioja Somm’er School is a new initiative for 2024 from Rioja Wine UK that gives sommeliers and on-trade buyers the chance to take a deep dive into what the region can offer. Here it sets out what it is looking for and how sommeliers can apply.

Richard Siddle
23rd April 2024by Richard Siddle
posted in People,People: Sommelier,

What is the Rioja Somm'er School initiative you have introduced?

Taking place between June 24-27, the Rioja Somm’er School will be a three-day educational trip to the region complete with winery visits, dinners and tastings. The programme based in Logroño will give eight UK-based sommeliers and on-trade buyers the opportunity to visit leading wineries across Rioja’s three zones, meet with pioneering producers, and discover both new styles and old favourites from Spain’s finest wine producing region.

What do you hope to achieve and what are the goals of the programme?

Engaging the on-trade is a key part of Rioja’s marketing strategy – sommeliers play an important role in communicating the fine wine credentials of the region to consumers. The Somm’er School provides an opportunity to showcase the great diversity of the region to a select group of on-trade professionals and to deepen their understanding of the region and its wines. It also provides opportunities for wineries and producers to increase their exposure in the UK market.

What was the inspiration for the initiative?

The dramatic sub-region of Haro in Rioja

Rioja DOCa already offers the chance for members of the trade to visit the region, notably through its Certified Rioja Wine Educator programme. This year, a number of specialist trips will allow professionals from all corners of the UK trade to immerse themselves in the heart of one of the world’s most prestigious wine regions. The Rioja Somm’er School will bring together sommeliers from across the UK for a unique educational experience. For wine professionals in other areas of the trade, there is a separate initiative, Rioja Camp which is currently open for applications.

You are looking for sommeliers and on-trade buyers to apply - how experienced do they need to be and who would the course be of best value to?

We encourage all UK sommeliers and on-trade buyers with a desire to learn more about Rioja to apply. Our aim is to share the passion, quality and commitment of Rioja’s winemakers and winegrowers with the UK on-trade, so if applicants can demonstrate a real willingness to get involved and advance their professional career, we want to hear from them!

What do those interested in attending have to do to apply?

Application can be made through a short online form, where applicants will be asked to compile a dream list of Rioja wines to serve in their place of work, and explain why they wish to attend the Somm’er School.

What will the programme entail and what will the sommeliers and buyers be expected to do?

Sommeliers will have the chance to understand how the Rioja region works, taste a wide number of wines and meet many of its leading producers

The trip will begin with an overview of the region hosted by the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja – this will provide attendees with a good introduction to the region’s zones, classifications and wine styles, and a great preview of what they should expect over the coming days. Following this, the sommeliers will visit six of the region’s top wineries and producers, ranging from modern to traditional, large to small, and have the chance to taste a diverse range of Rioja wines.

The trip will culminate with a final tasting, allowing sommeliers to discover the full breadth of what the region has to offer. Attendees will be expected to show a keen interest in furthering their knowledge of Rioja and its wines, and we hope they will be inspired to list some of the wines tasted during the trip.

Why are you targeting on-trade buyers and sommeliers for this initiative?

Sommeliers will have the chance to explore Rioja for themselves

The Somm’er School is part of our wider UK marketing strategy which involves a more specialist approach to engaging all corners of the UK trade. The on-trade is the way many consumers engage with wines from the region, whether visiting a specialist wine bar or heading out for a meal paired with Rioja wine, the on-trade is key to getting the premium wines of the region more exposure.

What would you say have been the big step changes and differences in Rioja in the last five years that are most relevant to the on-trade and sommeliers?

In 2017, Rioja introduced new ways of labelling wines by vineyard, village and region, with the aim of placing greater emphasis on the region’s diverse terroirs. Earlier this year, there were further changes to the labelling system with the phrase Viñedo en (“Vineyard in”) being added to labels. This initiative places greater focus on the origin of wines and their vineyards. For sommeliers, these changes are significant as they allow for further differentiation between the types of wine available in Rioja. By educating sommeliers on these new labelling terms, we hope that they will be able to explore new categories to expand their wine lists as well as helping consumers to understand the complexities of the system.

* To find out more and apply for the Rioja Somm'er School click here.