Celestine Masiga, the only certified professional sommelier (wine steward) in Uganda, says he loves his job because it enables him to socialise with a variety of clients.
“Working as a wine steward has exposed me to the different cultures of the people I serve and the different foods they pair with wine,” Masiga told The EastAfrican.
But he says being the only certified sommelier in Uganda has come with its own limitations:
“It’s interesting and at the same time difficult because most people are not familiar with my profession and I have had to struggle to be appreciated,” he added.
Currently working at the Kampala Serena Hotel as an in-house-sommelier and in charge of beverages, his work entails directing the beverage section by sourcing and purchasing quality wines for the hotel and coming up with selling prices. I also recommend drinks to clients while collecting feedback all the time for better future service.”
But how does one taste and decided what is the best wine out of several brands?
“A good wine is all about balance and as a trained taster you should be in position to understand and tell whether compounds are balancing in that particular wine, and not what the bottle looks like,” Masiga says.
As a sommelier, Masiga conducts private wine tasting tours at the Kampala Serena Hotel Champagne Bar.
“I think wine tasting at our new champagne bar is an experience not to be missed. Imagine having exclusive tasting with the true wine expert in a very exotic setup. It is about memories.”
According to Masiga, the perception that drinking wine is for the privileged few is fast changing, as more Ugandans take up wine drinking, even while dining at home.
“The culture of wine drinking in Uganda was almost non-existent because we are not a wine-producing country. But when it became affordable to import wines from South Africa and Europe, we have not looked back. It is no longer a trend but a lifestyle,’’ he observes.
The urge to be different is what influenced Masiga to become a sommelier. “I wanted to specialise in something unique and also of much importance to the hospitality industry,” he says.
Being a sommelier however comes with its own challenges, he says, and cites having to “deal with difficult clients and long working hours.”
But what value does the tasting of food and drinks add to the travel experience and tourism in general?
“When we bring in the idea of wine and food pairing, it goes beyond just a taste, it’s more like travel experiences. Because wines pair well with the foods that are grown where the grapes are grown, giving consumers a taste of different foods and cultures of wine growing areas,” Masiga notes.
He says there are employment opportunities for sommeliers in Uganda with “many hotels having come up and that need the service, and also sommeliers can work as beverage ambassadors in breweries and distilleries. I think there are a lot of opportunities.”
Masiga said that becoming a hotel sommelier is his greatest professional achievement so far.
He attained the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 3 Diploma, from the International Wine Education Centre in Stellenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa, 2016, which is internationally recognised.
He is currently studying for the flagship Level 4, which he says “is a bit tough but it’s the way to go.”
His advice to young people who want to become sommeliers is that “The industry is growing so fast. In the past two years alone Uganda added over 10 hotels giving assurance to job seekers.”
Masiga joined the Kampala Serena Hotel as a waiter in 2009 and has risen through the ranks to serve as a Fine Dining Restaurant Supervisor to his current role as the Head Sommelier.
He holds a Certificate in Food and Wine Pairing from the B&G Food and Wine Academy in Bordeaux, France, 2017; and a diploma in Catering and Hotel Management from YMCA Comprehensive Institute Kampala, 2009.