If you enjoy fine wines, international travel and would enjoy a highly paid career in the service industry, a career as a sommelier could be perfect for you. If you are prepared to work hard and study the craft, you could find yourself very much in demand and one of a rare breed; a Master Sommelier. In the UK there are only approximately 25 Master Sommeliers, many of them French, and in North America there are just 133.
As a sommelier you would possess an in-depth knowledge of wine and its use in a variety of different settings. You would understand the wine-making process as well as having expert knowledge about the countries and regions where wine is produced and individual vineyards and wineries around the world. Your knowledge would cover specific details about different grape varieties, harvest times, climate, soil, elevation, vineyard shape and dimensions and the processes surrounding fermentation.
It is very important for sommeliers to visit wineries and vineyards to gain this knowledge first-hand so your job would take you all over the world. You would also need to keep up to speed with industry trends and would attend formal wine tastings on a regular basis.
As a sommelier, you would usually expect to work in a fine-dining establishment. You would be responsible for compiling wine lists, ordering wines and managing stock levels. A sommelier makes recommendations to diners on which wine would go best with particular types of food, or may suggest wines based on guests’ individual taste preferences. Another of your duties would be to train waiting staff on wine, sometimes by conducting wine tastings.
Many wineries employ sommeliers to develop and teach training courses for visitors, host winery tours and assist visitors in choosing wines to suit their budgets and taste preferences.
There are also opportunities for employment in casinos, resorts and even spas. You could open your own wine shop or concentrate on teaching wine courses in private clubs or even in your own home. If you enjoy writing, as a sommelier you could contribute articles and wine reviews to magazines.
Becoming a Master Sommelier
To become a Master Sommelier you need more than a simple written exam and a few months of lectures. You must have years of experience in the wine industry, undertake two different courses and take four expensive examinations. You also need a precise and sophisticated tasting palette together with an in-depth knowledge about wine theory and beverage service.
Initially, you would take the Introductory Sommelier Course and exam offered by The Court of Master Sommeliers. This is a two day course including training with Master Sommeliers on proper wine service, blind tasting, wines and spirits and beer production. The course is followed by a multiple choice exam.
If you successfully pass the introductory level exam, you may progress to the Certified Sommelier exam. This must be taken within three years or you must start again with the introductory exam. The certification exam consists of a written theory test, a practical service exam and blind tasting of two wines.
Once you have successfully attained the first two levels and acquired a minimum of five years’ experience working in the service or wine industry, you may progress to the advanced course.
The Advanced Sommelier Course runs over three days and comprises a practical service and salesmanship element, written theory and blind testing of six wines. If you are successful, you may apply to take the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination.
Master Sommelier Diploma Examination
The Master Sommelier exam consists of a practical wine service test, an oral theory exam and a blind tasting of six wines. You will be judged on your social and technical skills, your professional attire, your sales ability and how you present yourself as a courteous and charming Master Sommelier.
If you fail any of the sections of the exam, you are allowed to re-sit them within three years before you must re-sit the whole exam.
Your hours will depend upon the type of business you work in but evenings, weekends and Bank Holidays will be included. You may also be required to travel extensively abroad and in the UK.
An experienced sommelier can expect to earn between £21,000 and £25,000 per annum although this varies considerably depending upon the nature of the establishment you work for. Master Sommeliers can command anywhere from £50,000 to £95,000 per annum.