CHOOSING A CAREER / SEP. 22, 2014
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How to Become a Sommelier in the US

Sommeliers are wine aficionados. They promote a wine culture, educating their clients about the different types of wine available in a restaurant and explaining the merits of each one. They help clients decide which type of wine to order or make suggestions if they do not know which one would be ideal.

What Does a Sommelier Do?

Sommeliers are usually employed in restaurants where they are also referred to as wine stewards. They also work in wineries, wine distribution and retail businesses. To become a sommelier, you will need an abiding love for wine and a passion for enlightening people on wine culture. Their specific duties include:

  • Providing clients with the wine lists
  • Making suggestions on how to pair the food and wine and giving background knowledge about the wine when asked to
  • Present, open and pour the wine for the clients observing the rules of etiquette
  • Oversee the purchasing to ensure that the establishment is stocked with choice wines and supervise its proper storage in the cellar
  • Create and update the wine list to reflect what the establishment has in stock
  • Educate the rest of the wait staff on the basics of wine for the benefit of the clients
  • Taste different varieties of wine to expose their palettes to the various options available and to be able to make an informed assessment when necessary

Qualifications

An academic degree is not necessary to become a sommelier, although there are degrees that can prepare you for this line of work. However, you will need to successfully complete certification courses to earn the title of sommelier and eventually that of Master Sommelier. There are numerous certification courses offered by the International Sommelier Guild, culinary and wine institutes and colleges. The courses are offered in different levels ranking from introductory classes for beginners, advanced classes and ultimately achieving the diploma distinction of Master Sommelier.

The certification courses cover subjects such as:

  • Components of wine including its appearance, flavor and aroma.
  • Sensory evaluation of wine.
  • The art, science and history of wine making
  • Wine and food pairing
  • Wine terminology
  • Wine service techniques
  • Proper wine management and storage practices
  • Menu design
  • Regional analysis of wines

 Skills

The wine industry is extensive and largely understood by the sophisticated echelons of society. If you want to be a sommelier, you will need the following skills in addition to your qualifications:

  • Self-drive and dedication to learn all there is to learn about wine and to keep refining your knowledge.
  • Be confident in your ability and to communicate authoritatively about the wine.
  • Be calm and temperate when dealing with clients, especially when dealing with demanding ones.
  • Excellent communication, interpersonal and public relations skills.
  • Observe personal and professional etiquette at all times.

Salary

The salary of a sommelier depends on his level of experience, his certification level and the establishment he works for. Sommeliers with years of experience dealing in wine, advanced certification and work in high-end restaurants and wineries are well-compensated. They may also earn a commission from every bottle of wine sold and tips from satisfied customers. The annual salary range in 2014 was:

Entry level

$29,387

Mid Career

$52,640

Successful

$75,875

 

Work Environment

Sommeliers spend most of their time attending to clients as they learn about, select and order wine. Therefore, you will be required to stand for long periods of time. They also work in the cellars, organizing the wine and ensuring that the proper conditions are maintained therein. A sommelier also liaises with the purchasing and procurement manager to obtain select wines for the establishment. Being a sommelier calls for continuous professional development and exposure to wines, so you will also need to travel; attending conferences, seminars and wine-tasting events to enhance your level of experience.

Career Growth and Job Outlook

As consumers continue to develop a taste for luxury goods, especially the burgeoning middle class, professions that offer these goods and services continue to have opportunities for growth. Experienced sommeliers with an extensive knowledge of everything about wine stand to benefit from exponential career growth. The Master Sommelier distinction is internationally recognized. As of 2012, fewer than 200 people had this distinction, which is enough impetus to keep aspiring upwards. Achieving this distinction will not only open up the whole world to you, but it will also greatly enhance your earning capacity.

If you have abiding passion for wine and are interested in cultivating the same in clients and promoting a wine culture, then this profession is ideal for you.

 

 

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