Citizen Reporter
4 minute read
1 Oct 2019
3:46 pm

Meet Laurie Cooper, SA’s best young sommelier 2019

Citizen Reporter

The winemaker has served as a judge for the South African Airways wines selection panel.

Laurie Cooper has been crowned Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier 2019. Picture: Supplied

Laurie Cooper has been crowned Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier 2019. At age 28, she is the winemaker and sommelier at Abingdon Wine Estate in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, believed to be the first family owned estate to produce wines from the province.

With her father, she runs all the viticulture and viniculture on the four-hectare estate.

Cooper is a Wine & Spirit Education Trust diploma graduate and, at age 24, founded the KZN School of Wine in January 2015. She is the head lecturer at the school, a SA Sommeliers Association (Sasa) level 2 certified sommelier and a first-year master of wine student.

Laurie Cooper. Picture: KZN School of Wine

Cooper is a distinction graduate from the Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy and has served as a judge for the South African Airways wines selection panel, as well as the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show and the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London.

She works alongside the South African Sommeliers Association and department of tourism in training young sommeliers across South Africa, overseeing the KZN division.

Cooper’s prize includes a trip to France to visit the Moët & Chandon Maison in Champagne, followed by a week in Barolo, Italy, where she will participate in the inaugural Collisioni Festival.

She receives a bursary from the International Wine Education Centre to study at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and an opportunity to compete in the Best Sommelier South Africa challenge in 2020.

How did your wine journey begin and what have been the defining moments so far?

It began in London. I was working in a corporate office job and needed a way to end the day on a good note. I enrolled on the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) wine courses and fell in love with the world of wine.

Upon winning a scholarship for the WSET diploma sparkling wine module, I decided to move back to South Africa and make wine a full-time career.

Winning a scholarship for sparkling wine was a defining moment as it was the precise moment when one realises both passion and talent. It cemented my love for the wine industry and, more specifically, for bubbles.

How has this competition impacted you as a young sommelier?

I have learnt so much through the whole process. Each step is a learning curve as to how to present yourself, calm your nerves, perform under pressure and how to train and encourage others in the industry in the future. It has been an incredible journey.

What were some of the theoretical and practical aspects of winemaking addressed in this competition?

To be a successful sommelier, all aspects of wine should be considered. It is important to understand different climates, grape varieties, soils and wine making techniques in order to succeed.

This is tested throughout the competition by commenting on oak regime, climate and knowledge of old-world regions and the styles of wine they produce.

Syrah grapes on Abingdon Estate. Picture: Twitter

As the winner, you have been awarded an opportunity to compete in the Moët & Chandon Best Sommelier South Africa challenge. How does a young sommelier prepare for such an event?

Practice, research, learn, practice, repeat. There are so many inspiring sommeliers in SA and the industry is incredibly supportive. I am lucky to be able to learn from the best and absorb as much as I can from the SA Sommeliers Association members.

Let us in on some of your favourite food & wine pairings?

Luckily, two of my most favourite things are champagne and oysters. As classic as it is, it is well-known for a reason. I’m a sucker for all seafood and bubbly!

As a young sommelier, what are the other achievements you strive towards in your wine career?

I have been accepted onto the Master of Wine programme this year. This will be the focus of my career in the coming years.

My biggest passion is to get KZN on par with the rest of South Africa in terms of wine knowledge and service. I would love to train an army of certified sommeliers!

Abingdon Estate in KZN. Picture: Facebook

What is your favourite memory of wine?

I remember tasting the first bottle of wine my parents ever made at Abingdon Estate, a 2007 syrah/cabernet blend that made history as the first certified estate wine to come out of KZN.

I was incredibly proud of what they had achieved against all odds and wanted to make sure the legacy lived on. I moved back to SA from London to join the family business and start a career in wine.

What are you excited to experience in the Champagne region?

I cannot wait! Sparkling wine as a category has always been my passion and forte. It is a dream come true to be able to experience champagne with such a phenomenal brand as Moët & Chandon.

What advice do you have for aspiring sommeliers?

Just do it! When you doubt yourself and your nerves take over, enter the competitions, take the exams, grow. You will never know what you can achieve until you put yourself to the test.

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