The first time I heard of a Water Sommelier was in December of 2021 when Olwethu casually mentioned it in one of our content meetings. Of course as soon as that meeting was over I jumped on google and started to research this rare but much needed profession – especially in our current climate of impending water scarcity and the seemingly increasing municipal water challenges.
So what exactly is a Water Sommelier and what do they do? AoS had the distinct privilege of interviewing the only South African Water Sommelier and guess what? Our first and only Water Sommelier and first A women Belongs feature of the year is Candice Jansen!
Here’s what we learnt from her…
Q. What is a water sommelier?
An individual who knows the value of water – and is well hydrated!
Water has taste, terroir and a story to tell and I love sharing that experience with others.
Most people aren’t aware that water has taste. Water is the most valuable resource on this planet and as a water sommelier, I invite people on the journey of rediscovering water – to give water value. From taste, mineral composition, saving water, how to buy water (and what not to buy eg: bottled tap water) and water education. There are billions of people across the world that do not have access to safe drinking water and the saying “water is life” is no cliche.
In a nutshell, water deserves our attention, and by creating spaces where you can learn and experience water differently, I ultimately change your perception of water for the better – all water! Including tap and how to make use of your water effectively at home and while you’re out. I also drive conversations around water, to get people talking about solutions that promote a water secure future, for everybody, not just those that are privileged.
Q. Being a water sommelier is not a common career path, in fact until you we had never heard about it. How and when did you first learn about the profession?
I have been at this game for some time now – Water is my element and passion, so it was a no-brainer for me. To showcase water in a different light makes all the sense in the world. Being a water sommelier does have a unique job description but an incredible one at that! There isn’t a day that I feel I “work”, I rather live my message that if there is magic found on this planet, it is found in water! And if you ever get to meet me in person, my love for water will be evident from the very first moment of that meeting.
Although the community of water sommeliers is rather small, some of us have been doing this for years, and some sommeliers as early as 2005. This isn’t new, it’s just now being noticed.
Q. Can you take us back to that ‘ah.ha’ moment when you realized that this is what you are meant to do?
I sat in a restaurant and there was an extensive wine list, yet the water list was only limited to “still or sparkling” – what does that even mean? Water has a source, a journey, a TDS level, a story and a taste profile. Still or sparkling are restrictions and water is not just water. When I saw this as a worldwide trend, I knew it had to change! Also, whoever suggested that lemon be added to water or ice from another source, needs to have a serious conversation with me because both of these ruin the taste of water. These were collectively my “ah-ha” moments.
Q. What are the top 3 skills required to enter this field of expertise?
Hustle. Passion. More hustle. Water is a hard sale and when you’ve made it, you can certainly sit back with a glass of Nevas and celebrate!
Q. Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced in becoming a water sommelier?
Nobody’s ever heard of a water sommelier – they ask me to repeat what I have just said, every time. Some of the challenges come with explaining to restaurants that water can’t be bought on price. Serving tap water in a glass bottle and then selling this to patrons is a no-no. These are mindsets people have become accustomed to – breaking the barriers takes a lot of practical explanation and thought processing – and many water tastings!
During lockdown, I had to explain many times that I was transporting water and not alcohol. The bottles are so beautiful, that they are easily seen as liquor – I don’t blame anybody who sees the bottles of water as valuable, they certainly are!
I was banned from Instagram and WhatsApp for selling “alcohol”. I only recently received my “get-out-of-jail-free-card.”
Q. How does it feel to be the only water sommelier in South Africa, and one of only few in the world?
I love my identity. I have hustled beyond measure to earn my stripes both internationally and locally. I have cultivated such wonderful relationships globally with brands as well as businesses – these offer opportunities to reach bigger markets across the world, sharing the love for water with millions more. I have become the gatekeeper for water and this is a role I take very seriously.
Q. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt from your successes & failures in your line of work?
Successes – every person I have managed to reach that has walked away thinking “ I never thought water could look this good” is a win!
Successes – I’ve grown an international distribution house called OriginFloe which supplies the world’s most iconic waters to restaurants and hotels around the world. We are the only Fine Water distributor in Africa and one of a handful globally.
Another success – launching South Africa’s first water menu at Kol Izakhaya in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, which is now listed as the 25th restaurant in the world with a water
menu. Croft & Co, Parkview have since joined the water family and are listed at the 26th restaurant in the world with a water menu.
Lessons – nothing ever goes according to plan, e-v-e-r, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
There are no failures, they are literally opportunities to tackle the second time around with previous experience. The lows make the high’s even greater which is what I look forward to most.
Q. What do you think needs to be done to raise awareness about your industry?
We can’t be expected to value water when people don’t understand water. Did you know that water has minerals, and these are measured as Total Dissolved Solids? Water is not pure. Many don’t know this. Every water in the world from tap to natural springs, and the water sold in supermarkets, has a TDS level. We need to understand the value of this resource in order to protect it. We need to know where our water comes from. Water doesn’t come from a tap.
Start asking questions about what’s in your water? Education changes perceptions, and that is where we win. Changing your perception of water.
Q. Can you share the process you had to undertake while you were preparing for and doing your ‘Master’ exams?
Drinking a lot of water. This is done to learn the unique characteristics of each source. The learning never ends. By understanding water intricately, you can pair different waters to different wines and cuisine through palate alone. The journey has just begun.
Q. Why should more women become water sommeliers?
Always do what you love – never anything else. If water is your passion, regardless of who you are, then stop at nothing to make it happen. As it stands, there are no “vacancies” for water sommeliers. This is a growing industry that I am working hard to propel forward and create opportunities for others that may follow.
I do want to encourage women to adopt a sense of authenticity. Nobody can ever replicate an original – be the original amongst the copy-and-pastes.