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A behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be a sommelier

What does perfect Champagne service look like? How difficult is it to become a sommelier? If you check out this year’s Sommelier Service Competition at the RC Show, you have the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the components required to become a sommelier. In this competition, top sommeliers from across Canada will compete in a service-based challenge for a chance to win an all-expenses paid trip to Champagne, France to visit the Piper-Heidsieck and the Charles Heidsieck Champagne houses. This customizable trip provides the winning sommelier with the opportunity to blend their own Champagne to serve at their restaurant

The competition was founded by Jeff Osborne with the Breakthru Beverage Canada, Wine & Craft Spirits team. “I watched the Beyond the Rail competition at an RC Show and was inspired to bring that same level of excitement to showcase the top sommeliers in Canada,” says Osborne.

First held at the RC Show in 2020, the competition is designed to mimic the service component of a Certified Sommelier Exam. Competitors are tasked with opening and serving a bottle of Champagne while constantly being peppered with questions from judges. This glimpse into the sommelier world provides spectators with the ability to see what perfect service looks like.

From start to finish, competitors must serve according to strict specifications, while constantly being questioned by judges on service and product knowledge. The competition demonstrates the exceptional grace, poise and talent required to pass the service portion of the sommelier exam. While answering questions correctly is one thing, how you answer when not knowing an answer is also judged. “The service component is where anything can go wrong,” remarks Osborne. “The competition is extreme multi-tasking. It’s not just about the perfect presentation and pour, it’s about multi-tasking successfully, answering questions and showing how well competitors handle difficult questions and not knowing the answers.”

This year’s judges are among the best-of-the-best in Canada and are current proctors for the sommelier exam in Canada. The judges include Jen Huether, Master Sommelier and Director of Alcohol Curation, Fresh City Farms, Christopher Sealy, Wine Director, Alo Group and Elsa MacDonald, Master of Wine. “We really have the best group of judges – with deep knowledge of the industry. The competitors should expect some curveballs.”

The competitors also represent the top tiers of their profession. Earlier this year, prospective competitors applied online and were accepted into the competition if they are a certified sommelier, live and work in Canada and currently work in a restaurant. After applying, competitors were narrowed down to the six competitors with the highest scores on the written exam which was proctored in multiple provinces. Each of the finalists will have 15 minutes to demonstrate Champagne service on stage at the show.

Matt Landry – Stable House Bistro, Vancouver BC

Justin Madol – Don Alfonso 1890, Toronto ON

Christophe Reitz – Quatrefoil Restaurant, Dundas ON

Christian Perreault Hamel – Pompette, Toronto ON

Jose Luis Fernandez – Langdon Hall, Cambridge ON

Leagh Barkley – Aquafarina & Per Se Social Corner, Vancouver BC

The quick paced competition is also a place for inspiration. “The competition really demonstrates the best of service,” says Osborne. “It’s also a great opportunity to see what it takes to be a top sommelier, get inspired about service and see the depth of the talent that we have in Canada.”


Experience the Sommelier Service Competition at RC Show 2022. Monday, May 9, 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Bar & Beverage Stage. Register here!

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