Heidi Iren Hansen lives and works in Oslo, where she manages wine courses and educational events for The Culinary Academy of Norway. She is highly active in sommelier education and has been a member and contributor to the Board of the Norwegian Sommelier Association for many years. She originally trained as a chef before switching to the world of wine and has been a finalist at numerous Norwegian and Nordic sommelier championships as well. That background affords her a broad view of the different arms of ASI.
1) Education is clearly an important aspect of the sommelier experience for you. What do you see as the most important elements of a competent somm’s education?
I think it is very important that somms serve their guests a wide range of wines, including various countries/regions of origin, grape varieties and styles. Some somms tend to be a bit too narrowly focused on the classics, especially since there are so many exciting quality wines that deserve attention. I think teachers influence the mindset of their sommelier students more than they realize and that it is important that teachers encourage students to be curious and open to wines from both classical as well as less traditional regions.
The world of wine is in constant development. So what really matters is that somms stay curious after passing their sommelier exam and keep open to learning new things.
2) While numbers are improving all the time, the number of top female somms is still quite small. What was it like rising to the top in Norway?
I have always felt major support from the Norwegian wine industry and think that Norwegians are generally more open minded to the idea of women being top somms. I believe it is a consequence of Norway having a rather short history of wine consumption compared to more traditional countries like Italy, France and the UK. With that said, I know it’s not as easy in all markets and I think it is very exciting to follow organizations like Women in Wine etc.
3) Every sommelier hates the question “What is your favorite wine?” So we’ll ask something different: which album or playlist do you prefer to listen to when drinking your favorite wine?
When I log off and enjoy a glass (or a bottle) of wine at home I love listening to classical 60s and 70s soul including music from Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin etc.