Some 2023 Golden Vines applicants – part 2

Andres Aragon

The second of three collections of profiles of some of this year's applicants for the three Taylor's Port Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships, winners to be announced in September. They have been written by Romané Basset of the foundation named after his father Gérard. Three sommeliers this time, with each of Australia and Colombia featuring twice. See also part 1 and part 3.

Andres Aragon, pictured above, is a Colombian sommelier, currently working as a sales manager and brand ambassador with Jackson Family Wines. Over the past 15 years wine has become Aragon’s all-consuming passion. At a young age and on his own, he moved from Colombia to Australia, a move which he says granted him ‘resilience, a fighting spirit and an incredible inner strength’. All of this he has applied to progress in the wine industry. As a non-native English speaker, he initially found it difficult to access the somewhat elitist Australian wine world, struggling in particular to participate in tasting groups and to find wine mentors.

Having completed both his Advanced Sommelier and WSET Diploma certifications, Aragon has the ambitious aim of one day qualifying as both an MS and MW (as my father, Gérard Basset, did). Many have tried to deter Aragon from pursuing both of these incredibly challenging courses, but this has not dimmed his enthusiasm in the slightest. His personal journey in wine education is driven by wanting to bring about ‘inclusion and accessibility, challenging the status quo and making wine a tangible reality’ for all under-represented communities, while simultaneously celebrating the ‘ever-evolving nature’ of wine and the wine industry.

Aragon says he wants to use his position to emphasise the balance which defines wine, as it is inexorably ‘linked to the land, the environment and the human factor’ and is dependent on the sustainable and respectful interaction between all three.

Abhi Ayare

Abhi Ayare, pictured above, is an Indian sommelier, currently working as head sommelier at The Charles Grand Brasserie and Bar in Sydney, Australia. Partly because his family in Mumbai did not support his passion for wine, Ayare felt compelled at a young age to leave India in order to meet new people, pursue his education and develop his wine career. Five years ago he arrived in Australia, where he encountered discrimination for the first time. Determined to overcome this through sheer achievement, he set himself the goal of becoming the youngest head sommelier in Australia.

Despite this admirable determination, he has encountered continued discrimination and reports that, rather than being validated for the wine certifications which he has achieved and recognised as a part of the wine community, he finds himself constantly questioned as a person of colour. Such hurdles have only increased Ayare’s determination to attain the MS qualification in order to ‘endeavour towards eliminating’ the prejudice he has encountered. His long-term aim is to ‘give back to the community’. To that end, his ultimate goal is to open a wine education centre in India so that he may offer his knowledge and mentorship to ‘make it [wine] accessible to people of all colours, castes, religions and financial backgrounds’.

So far on his wine education journey, Ayare became the youngest-ever Dux for the CMS Certified Sommelier exam, and then went on to qualify, at 22, as the world’s youngest CMS Advanced Sommelier. Such impressive achievements at such a young age are a testament to his resolve, and we have no doubt we will continue to see him go from strength to strength to the benefit of wine education in India.

Jose Fernandez

José Fernandez, pictured above, is another Colombian sommelier, this time living and working in Ontario, Canada. Born and raised in Bogotá, Fernandez moved to Manhattan in 1999 and began working as a busboy in a fine-dining restaurant. Captivated by their ‘serious wine program and strong wine team’, he began his own wine studies which culminated in his joining the American Sommelier Association’s introductory course. This was eye-opening. He realised that learning about wine was not going to be as easy as he thought, but this only motivated him more.

The beginning of his preparations for the Certified Sommelier exam coincided with the terrible events of 11 September 2001. Subsequent changes to US immigration law resulted in Fernandez and his family losing their work permits, which compelled them to seek new prospects. Canada was more welcoming and they settled in Ontario in 2004, Fernandez threw himself back into wine education, attaining the CMS Introductory and Certified qualifications, and discovered a passion for the competitive aspect of the profession. He entered every competition he was able to, progressing up the results table and making podium position, to the point that in 2019 he won the Best Sommelier of Ontario competition. In November 2023 he will go on to represent his home province in the Best Sommelier of Canada competition.

He has now not only attained his Advanced Sommelier certification but has begun actively preparing for his Master Sommelier exam. He has also volunteered his time and experience as a mentor for Vinequity, the Canadian non-profit organisation which seeks to improve BIPOC visibility and inclusion within the wine industry through scholarships, bursaries, raising awareness and mentorship.