What is a sommelier? The literal definition of sommelier is a wine steward. Essentially, a sommelier’s job is to have an in depth knowledge and understanding of all sorts of different wines. From what types of food they pair best with, to what notes and flavors are in each wine, and where the grapes or other fruits from each wine are grown. Sommeliers are responsible for large caches of information constantly. Wine selections are restaurants and other venues change seasonally but can also change monthly, weekly, and with changes to the menu. Sommeliers must consult with the head chef to be sure that great wine pairings are always available in the wine cellar. On top of the ever shifting selection, there is also the prices of wine to be aware of. Great sommeliers never upsell. They need to be able to find a great wine pairing or selection at or below the guests requested price range. To be a great sommelier, you must be willing to commit to constant studying and memorization. Not just anyone can pull up Google and study wine for a few days and call themselves a sommelier. In order to become a professional sommelier there are professional and educational steps that must be taken.
A quick Google search for certifications in wine will return thousands of results just in the United States. But not all educational programs are made equal. When searching for a wine or sommelier certification or diploma, it is crucial to be sure that the program you are interested in is from an accredited institution and not just a company attempting to trick you out of your money with a worthless piece of paper. Good sommelier education programs will involve instruction in crucial topics such as grape varieties and characteristics, wine production, sensory evaluation, pairing wine with food, and service techniques.
Before you go off and begin your search for the perfect sommelier program for you, you should review the differences between types of sommeliers and sommelier programs in order to determine what exactly you aspire to be in the world of wine. There are generally three accepted levels to wine certifications. The first is offered through the Society of Wine Educators and successful completion of the program leads to the title of Certified Specialist of Wine. The course focuses on grape growing, winemaking, and the wine production regions of the world. Many wine distributing and/or importing companies require their employees to sit for the exam. No previous knowledge or experience is required to enroll in the program, and to pass students must get at least 75% of the questions on the exam correct.
The second is the Wine and Spirit Education Trust diploma (WSET). The diploma comes after finishing levels one through four of the prestigious program. Level one involves learning basic wine service and a guide to tasting wine. It finishes with a thirty question multiple choice quiz. The second level is a three day course which covers basic wine theory and it finishes with a fifty choice multiple choice quiz . The third level is four days of classes with time in between for independent study. In this level students study tasting technique, viticulture, winemaking, and world wine regions. To pass the third level, students must pass a fifty question multiple choice quiz, multiple written short answers, and a blind taste test. The fourth and final level expands upon the information given in the third level of the program.
There are benefits to the diploma for many different types of professions and people. The main goal of WSET is for the student to graduate from the program with a deep understanding of how to correctly go about tasting and evaluating wines. Amateurs and pros alike often take part in this program as many different types of professions and people can benefit from its teachings. The list expands from retailers, distributers, hotel and restaurant employees, and more. The whole program can be completed in less than a year and is typically regarded as a prerequisite to the the next program type on the list, the Advanced Sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Lastly, there are a few different types of certifications and diplomas offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers. The hardest to attain is the a Master Sommelier diploma. This is an extremely rigorous program where the vast majority of those that sit for the exam do not ever pass. Because of this, there are very few official Master Sommeliers. Across the world, there are only 229 people who have passed the rigorous exam. The other options offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers are the Introductory Sommelier Course, the Certified Sommelier Exam, and the Advanced Sommelier Course and Exam. The certifications offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers also cover topics such as beer and other cocktails which are topics important to most potential employers.
So, you’ve looked into education programs and you’re still interested in becoming a sommelier but want to know what types of places you can search for a job? There are many places and venues which hire sommeliers or wine and beverage consultants. The most obvious, of course, are restaurants all across the world. But restaurants and bars are not the only places which can benefit from having a sommelier on staff. Hotels, resorts, hospitality groups, grocery store chains, beverage distributors, wine stores, and more. Whole Foods, Crescent Hotels and Resorts, Union Square Hospitality Group, Jackson Family Wine, Young’s Market Company, Bristol Bar and Grill, Vail Resorts Mountain Dining Division, and Darden are just a handful of companies which have positions which hire sommeliers. When searching for jobs as a sommelier, look out for job listings with titles such as beverage consultant, alcohol and beverage manager, and restaurant managerial positions. Oftentimes, restaurants like to hire managers who can double as their sommelier or beverage consultant. You can also find a career as a winemaker, importer, restaurant owner, and more. As a sommelier, you can expect a wide range of salaries from hourly to $40,000 to $130,000 a year.