The memory and influence of Gerard Basset OBE MW MS are encapsulated by the new series of Golden Vines scholarships that are being awarded as part of the Gerard Basset Wine Education Charitable Foundation in partnership with Liquid Icons. Two of the most prestigious scholarships are the The Golden Vines™ Masters of Wine and The Golden Vines™ Master Sommelier Scholarships which, in their inaugural year, have been awarded to Mags Jango, founder of the UK wine distribution business, MJ Wine Cellars, and Winnie Toh, a sommelier from Singapore, who is currently working at the Aman Hotel in Turks and Caicos. They will both receive £12,500 to cover the full costs of tuition, examination and tastings to take part in the two programmes, including the opportunity to take part in exclusive winery visits and study tours. In the first of two profiles on the winning students we talk to Winnie Toh about her career and what she hopes winning the Master Sommelier scholarship will do for her career.
The Golden Vines scholarships are being funded from money raised at the upcoming Golden Vines™ Awards Ceremony & Dinner to be held at Annabel’s Private Members Club on October 7 2021. To register for tickets and to find out how you can help and take part click here.
Winnie Toh has one clear, set vision about her career and decision to become a sommelier. It’s a goal that made her the stand out candidate in the first Golden Vines™ Master Sommelier Scholarship. She quite simply wants to: “Become Asia’s top female sommelier and mentor future generations of sommeliers who need help like me”.
It’s an ambition that Jancis Robinson MW, and lead judge of the programme is quite sure she will achieve. “We were all hugely impressed by Winnie’s wine journey, from a junior internship at Raffles Hotel in Singapore 20 years ago to managing an international team of sommeliers at an Aman resort in the Caribbean,” she says.
Nina Basset, the late Gerard Basset’s wife and trustee of The Gerard Basset Wine Education Charitable Foundation, says she is “delighted to be able to offer these two additional scholarships to such talented, deserving members of the BAME/BIPOC community so that they can reach their full potential in the wine industry and act as role models to encourage other members from these communities to consider a career in wine. We look forward to seeing them succeed at the highest level of our industry.”
The judging panel for The Golden Vines™ Masters of Wine and The Golden Vines™ Master Sommelier Scholarships included: Nina Basset FIH, Rajat Parr (Sandhi Wines), Carlton McCoy MS (Lawrence Wine Estates), Clement Robert MS (The Birley Clubs / Annabel’s) and lead judge Jancis Robinson OBE MW.
Winnie Toh has already got the Asian Advanced Sommelier Certificate, from The Court of Master Sommeliers Europe, and is working on her MS diploma. After studying hospital management she was able to secure an internship at the historic Raffles Hotel in Singapore. It was here that she started to work as part of the wine team, meeting top winemakers and Michelin starred chefs.
It was here that she realised working in wine would allow her “to learn something new everyday”. “I made a decision to continue studying about wine and to become a sommelier.”
That decision has seen her take on a number or roles, including working at the casino Galaxy resort in Macau, before moving to Shangri La hotels and resorts where she moved up to head sommelier and bar and beverage manager. She has been working at the Aman resort in Turks & Caicos since July 2017.
On winning the MS scholarship she says: “I am humbled, and overwhelmed with joy for being the recipient of the Golden Vines™ Master Sommelier Scholarship. My leap of faith has taken me onto paths less travelled to achieve my career goals. I am grateful to the judges and my community for believing in me and cheering me on. My mission is to be an inspiration for young sommeliers finding their path. I will relentlessly continue my journey in wine by being a mentor and reflect the good work of the late Gerard Basset and the wine icons who have contributed to my growth over the years.”
She says she became aware of the programme through contacts within the Master Sommelier community and was encouraged to enter to see how far she could do.
“I have always wanted to enhance my preparation for the MS diploma by traveling across wine regions. In my opinion, the best way to learn is to gain perspective from the ground. My mission statement has always been to be an inspiration for young sommeliers seeking their path. The scholarship appeared at a perfect timing and I applied for it without hesitation.”
She adds: “The application process was a breeze. I got to sit with myself and reconnect with my goals and aspirations. I loved the thoughtful process.”
Toh certainly recognises this is a great achievement for herself, but is also a great opportunity to inspire and motivate her peers, from similar backgrounds, as she explains: “As the news sunk in in, I recognised the purpose I have to fulfil and my greater calling to be a role model to wine professionals in the BAME/BIPOC community. I am very excited about that. I have friends from every ethnicity and religion group, and I embrace our differences with an open mind. I am certain my experiences will light a bulb in those on the same journey.”
She is also very grateful for the financial support the scholarship gives her: “As I work in such a remote location in the Turks & Caicos it will be great to have the support of the scholarship to help me travel to wineries and cities and connect with wine professionals around the world and have less concern about the finances involved in making that happen.
“After the announcement hit the news, the community has also poured in with so much support. I realised I have been placed on a stage with a larger audience who can look up to me and be inspired to turn their goals into reality through hard work, faith, and dedication.”
Ultimately it gives her the chance to fulfil her ambition of becoming a master sommelier. “The scholarship was granted to me as the judges saw the potential of me becoming a future master sommelier,” she says. “I am excited to be on this journey and look forward to completing this chapter and embarking on the next.”
She says she would like to her use her MS skills to become “an entrepreneur and educator”. “I am still seeking my path and moulding my ideas,” she says.
As for what makes being a good sommelier, Toh says: “The most important thing is to be present – physically and mindfully. We have to remember sommeliers are salespeople and we have to keep up with knowledge to be able to recommend the most suitable products to our clientele. It is also important to be flexible and help out as often as possible on the service floor. This creates higher engagement with staff and guests’ alike, thus building relationships that are important for us to succeed in our role.”
It’s why she sees training as been key to any good sommelier’s role. Helping the team you work with improve their skills is good for the overall wine service you can offer your customers, she says. “The more the team knows about wine, the higher the level of guests’ satisfaction and the closer the owners get to achieve revenue goals.”
The Golden Vines™ Wine Scholar Guild Scholarships
As well as the two Master of Wine and Master Sommelier Scholarships the Golden Vines initiative has also seen 10 Golden Vines™ Wine Scholar Guild Scholarships awarded as part of the The Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships programme. Each of the 10 winners will have the chance to specialise in a country of their choice, by enrolling in one of the Wine Scholar Guild’s advanced French, Spanish or Italian Wine Scholar Certification Programs. Each course is carried out in either “independent study format” or “10-week, instructor-led format”. Details on the courses can be found here.
The 10 winning scholars for the 2021 Golden Vines™ Wine Scholar Guild Scholarships are:
Nikan Jooyani: An Iranian living in Spain (FISAR Certificate holder)
Shalva Khetsuriani: From Georgia
Arlene King: A Jamaican living in the UK (WSET Level 2 Certificate in Wines and Spirits holder)
Olufikayo Ifaturoti: A Nigerian living in the UK (WSET Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits holder)
Oscar Marulanda: From Columbia (WSET Level 3 Award in Wines holder)
Alec Merkt-Caprile: From Canada
Emma Ogiemwanye: A West African living in the USA
Tanmay Rathod: From India (Certified Specialist of Wine from Society of Wine Educators)
Jai Singh: An Indian living in Italy (WSET Level 2 Award in Wines holder & Level 3 student)
Aki Sudo: From Japan (ASI International Diploma holder)
Lewis Chester of Liquid Icons, and trustee of The Gerard Basset Wine Education Charitable Foundation, says of the scholarship winners: “We are delighted that the Wine Scholar Guild have decided to offer these most generous scholarships to BAME/BIPOC wine students chosen by our incredible panel of judges. Our aim is to make the world of wine more diverse and inclusive, and to do this, we need to find and promote a new generation of role models who can attract students from these communities globally to the wine industry. These new scholarships will certainly help in achieving that objective.”
Annabel’s Awards Dinner
The not-for-profit Golden Vines Award Ceremony, Dinner & After-Party will be held at Annabel’s, part of The Birley Clubs, on October 7 2021. It hopes to “recognise the star performers of the fine wine industry and raise funds for The Gerard Basset Wine Education Charitable Foundation with the objective of funding diversity and inclusion-related wine education programmes globally, including the headline Taylor’s Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarship, Internship & Mentorship Programmes, which has seen 42 BAME/BIPOC students from 23 different countries apply for two scholarships worth £55,000 each.
The Golden Vines Awards will be awarded to the world’s best fine wine producers as voted by leading members of the global fine wine industry in the Gerard Basset Global Fine Wine Report produced by Liquid Icons. In all 442 leading fine wine professionals from 55 countries votes for The Golden Vines Awards, including 57 Masters of Wine, 31 Master Sommeliers, 197 sommeliers, 133 fine wine merchants, 93 fine wine distributors, 80 members of the fine wine press, 57 fine wine brokers and 15 auction house professionals.
The Oeno Golden Vines Honorary Award was awarded posthumously to wine legend Steven Spurrier at The Macallan Golden Vines Dinner on July 6.