Why International Certifications Do Not Work in India?

IWBS India frequently asked questions
Sommelier Magandeep SINGH highlights key points of IWBS

Education is the foundation on which the future is built – I have always believed in this basic tenet. Education imbues humility, teaches skills and inculcates values that go a long way in shaping not just careers but also lives. We have been in the field of academia for over a decade (almost two for me personally) and a lot has changed in this time. The most pertinent of these changes would be the inclusion of relevance in the study material – as the world continues to shrink, it also grows in a micro-cosmic manner. The education that works in one part of the world is no longer valid or useful in another. Which is why tailor-made courses to suit local needs while addressing and adhering to global standards is the call of the day. It was with this precise sentiment that we decided to launch our own courses for the beverage industry in the Indian subcontinent.

Now you may wondering what validity could this bring? Would it help a student to acquire this over, say, another more popular international certification which perhaps has a better guarantee of securing you a job? What about working abroad? Allow me to address all such queries systematically.

INTERNATIONAL VS INDIAN?

Many wine and beverage programs were never made for the Asian market let alone India. Also, the course that works for a sales agent in the industry in the West is not at all the same for a person who aspires to be a sommelier on our subcontinent. And even then, there is a geographic bias for e.g. Europe sees more locally regional wines like French, Italian, Spanish and so on whereas South America is definitely more focused on brands from their part of the hemisphere.

Nothing wrong with it but this means that when educating yourself to work in a certain market, you need to ensure you learn about wines and spirits which sell most there. Also, you need to learn of the local scene on priority as that will eventually be your trump card on the international scene. Take it from me, more people ask me about what Indians drink (and of late, what Indian whiskies and Indian wines to try) rather than the latest on Bordeaux vintage reports or SuperTuscan grape blends. And if, as an Indian aspiring sommelier, you can’t rattle off all the single malts we make or the best sites for local vineyard visits, then there is little point in acquiring knowledge about Champagne or the Coonawarra. Prioritising your education is also an important part of the process.

Foreign courses don’t have this balance right, at least not for Indian candidates. They are too skewed towards the old established world of wines, one which is important to know but not one which accounts for a majority of the sales in India. So to know all the Grand Cru vineyards of Chablis in order size may be an impressive feat but of little use given that India barely sells a few cases’ worth of the generic stuff across the nation! But to know where the good easy-drinking Merlots are coming from and how to pair a Pinot Noir with curries is a skill that will up your sommellerie quotient with the local clientele as also F&B seniors. The same goes for courses out of London – a group of wine enthusiasts with feeble constitutions that can’t, pun intended, stomach spices thus think that all spicy dishes should be paired with a sweet wine are certainly not what one would consider an informed education.

As for jobs, well if you will be working abroad then certainly consider a course in the country you will be settling in but if you wish to work right here in India then nothing can prepare you better than a course with the local institutions. Sure it sounds biased coming from me but for someone who has trained most of the top F&B management across prestigious hotels and institutions over the last two decades, I think we have a suitably consistent and enviably laudable track record to make this claim. 

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