Fake sommelier label pins

The Japan Sommeliers Association has discovered that the pins it issues to those who pass its sommelier and other wine expert qualifications have been sold at auction sites, despite a ban, and that some of the pins are fake, said association officials on Monday.

The association alerted restaurants that fake pins could be misused by unqualified people when trying to get a job, and said that it has taken legal action in malicious cases.

Among these cases was that of a man who sold 38 fake pins for a total of ¥1.3 million ($11,800) at an auction site. The association sued him and obtained damages.

The man, who currently works in an alcohol store in the Kanto region, said in an interview that he introduced himself as a qualified sommelier by wearing a fake pin. “I wore it as if it were an accessory, but my understanding was wrong,” he said in The Japan Times.

The association offers grape pins to those who pass its qualification tests, while prohibiting the sale or lending of the pins to third parties. Some restaurants prefer qualified sommeliers or wine consultants and experts when hiring staff.

“We have found that more than 100 pins have been made available online in recent years,” said one official.

As part of its investigation, the association purchased several pins online and confirmed that some were fake. One authentic pin, sold for ¥150,000, had its qualification number engraved on it.

“Qualification is not something you can buy and (the pin) is not part of a collection,” said Shinya Tasaki, the association’s president. Tasaki became the first Japanese winner of the World’s Best Sommelier Competition in 1995.

“It is a lack of respect for those who have been certified after their hard work,” said Mr. Tasaki.

To become a certified sommelier, the association requires that candidates have more than three years of professional experience in the restaurant industry before taking a written and tasting exam. The success rate in 2018 was 26.5% and the current number of sommeliers in Japan is about 30,000, including 13,000 women.