His name is Dion Wai, he works in Auckland’s newest restaurant precinct and this month he won the NZ Sommelier of the Year award – a return trip to Paris, hosted visit to Champagne Louis Roederer and the kudos of the award, which was designed to champion professional wine service in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Sommelier of the Year Awards are now in their third year and run at the New Zealand School of Food and Wine (NZSFW) in Auckland.

It’s good to see these awards make a comeback to New Zealand after a long gap between drinks. I judged the country’s annual wine service competition in the late 1990s in Auckland, held under different ownership and management and was sorry to see that competition bite the dust. It would be helpful to New Zealand’s hospitality scene to see the talent at the top trickle down into the mindset of staff waiting tables at this country’s cafes and bars, no matter how humble or how community oriented the venue.

Even a country as close as Australia has undoubtedly got its service sorted to a far higher level than New Zealand, in terms of speed, efficiency, general courtesy and humour.

It’s great when waiting staff are informed, able to serve drinks elegantly and know how to open a bottle of wine with confidence, regardless of its closure – screw capped bottles can be opened with every bit of care and attention as cork-sealed bottles. But what really rocks in wine and food service, for me, is eye contact, a menu and a little positive attention; it’s about the customer rather than the chef, the mixologist or the barista.

What makes service good for you?

 

Fast facts: NZ Sommelier of the Year Competition

“The calibre of people entering under 30 years was extremely high this year and the competition included four women, which reflects the growing interest amongst women in pursuing careers in professional wine service,” says Celia Hay, chair of the New Zealand Sommeliers and Wine Professionals Association (and founder/director of the NZSFW).

Wai works full time at Baduzzi for restaurateur Michael Dearth who also owns The Grove restaurant. He is also currently finishing his degree in hospitality management at AUT and is a student in the Court of Master Sommeliers certification programme.

The annual competition also includes a junior sommelier award, sponsored by Misha’s Vineyard in Otago. The awards are held under direction from Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas.