Sommeliers are the wine experts in restaurants. They will often help customers select a bottle of wine for their meal. Sommeliers can work in restaurants, wineries, or vineyards. Unlike bartenders or waiters who have general knowledge, they specialize in wine. Sommeliers must have excellent communication skills and must be able to explain why one wine is better than the other, how wines change over time, and how certain wines complement specific foods.
A sommelier must also know the different types of wine available such as red, white, or sparkling. As well, they must know how each type is made, and where it comes from. They must also be familiar with regional specialties and other details about each region’s vineyards and wineries.
Sommeliers may train at a college or trade school to learn more about wine service and tasting techniques. Some may even receive a formal certification through an organization like the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS).
Sommelier Job Duties
Sommeliers are responsible for a wide range of duties, including:
- Ensuring that wines are stored and presented properly
- Explaining the characteristics of various wines to customers and recommending wines based on their preferences
- Handling wine tastings at stores or restaurants, or conducting classes on wine tasting skills and serving techniques
- Helping customers select wines for meals based on food pairing principles
- Overseeing inventory levels of all alcohol products in the establishment to ensure adequate supply levels at all times
- Assisting with selecting wines for private events, banquets, weddings, and other occasions
- Creating wine lists for restaurants or hotels
Sommelier Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for sommeliers is $46,712. The top earners can bring home more than $88,000 per year. Those earning higher wages tend to work in the accommodations industry.
The employment of sommeliers is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade. As food and beverage services grow as an industry, sommeliers will be needed to train staff and ensure that wine lists are up-to-date and accurate.
Sommelier Job Requirements
Becoming a sommelier has the following requirements:
Education: There are no formal education requirements available to become a sommelier. However, it is generally expected that the individual has at least a high school diploma or GED.
Training: Sommeliers learn how to choose wines, identify wines, and pair wines with food during on-the-job training. There are also training courses available from organizations such as the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Certification: While not required by most employers, sommeliers can take advantage of certification programs to improve their skills and increase their earning potential. Some of the most reputable organizations to obtain certification from are the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Society of Wine Educators.
Experience: Hands-on experience is important for this role, but that can be obtained during on-the-job training for those who are starting out.
The following skills are required for this job:
Excellent communication skills: Sommeliers must be able to effectively communicate with customers and clients in order to recommend wine selections.
Good organizational skills: Sommeliers must be able to keep track of inventory, sales, and other details about the wines they sell.
Ability to solve problems: Wine is a complex beverage that can be affected by many factors. A sommelier must have the ability to quickly assess situations and come up with solutions to fix problems.
Sense of taste: The most important skill for a sommelier is the ability to recognize subtle flavors in wine. It’s also essential for him or her to know how food affects the flavor of wine.
Ability to remain calm under pressure: This is a high-pressure job because a sommelier often serves as the face of the restaurant or hotel where he or she works. If a customer has a complaint about a wine that was served, it will usually fall on the sommelier’s shoulders to resolve the issue.
Physical stamina: The job requires long hours standing up and carrying heavy boxes of wine bottles.
Sommelier Work Environment
Sommeliers work in restaurants, wineries, or private clubs. The hours are long and irregular, as is the case with most other restaurant staff. They may have to attend tastings at other establishments, wine events, among others. In some cases, they may have to travel as part of their job. They also spend a good deal of time on their feet going from table to table and being physically active at all times.
Sommeliers work full time, usually 40 hours a week. However, their hours can change depending on the day of the week or time of year. The schedule often varies by establishment. Working in a restaurant, for example, requires late nights, because this is when most customers are dining. Hours are typically longer during busy periods, such as summer vacation or holidays.
Sommelier Career Advancement
A sommelier with a decade or more of experience can become a Master Sommelier. This designation is extremely difficult to achieve, and only a small fraction of sommeliers have earned it.
In addition to the Master Sommelier title, there are several other levels of sommelier certification. You can increase your salary and prestige by becoming a Certified Wine Educator or a Certified Specialist of Wine.
Here are three trends influencing how sommeliers work. Sommeliers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Focusing on Underrepresented Regions
As wine continues to grow in popularity, it has become increasingly important for sommeliers to focus on lesser-known regions and vintages.
For example, over the past few years, Chilean wines have gained international attention due to their low cost and high quality – with many wineries producing comparable quality wines to those produced in France at a fraction of the price.
The growth of seasonal food menus has influenced sommeliers to focus on seasonal pairings, which are often more affordable than purchasing high-end wines.
This trend is likely to grow in the coming years as people become more concerned about sustainability and seek out wines that are produced locally or with fewer resources in order to cut down on their carbon footprint.
Wine Tastings for Dummies
New advances in technology are making it easier than ever to learn about the nuances of wine.
Many of these products provide recommendations based on a user’s preferences and tastes. In addition, many wines now come with a QR code that can be scanned by a smartphone to obtain additional information about the particular bottle being consumed.
How to Become a Sommelier
1. Planning Your Career Path
If you’re thinking about a career as a sommelier, you’ll need to have a natural interest in wine and other alcoholic beverages. In addition, the role requires extensive knowledge of wines from all over the world; those who are looking to become sommeliers should travel and try out as many local wines as possible to build their knowledge base.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for sommeliers emphasize wine knowledge, service, and sales. When describing previous work experience, include specific details such as the kind of equipment you used, how you worked with other people, what types of wine you recommended, etc.
It’s also important to show how you work with others in a team environment because most sommeliers work in restaurants where they interact with customers, other waitresses, and the kitchen staff. Focus on describing your skills in this area by highlighting specific examples of how you worked well with others and took initiative when necessary without supervision.
3. Applying for Jobs
The best way to get a job as a sommelier is to go straight to the source. Check out wine festivals, conventions, and other events where sommeliers will be present. Introduce yourself, share your passion for wine, and build relationships. Use these relationships to ask questions about how they got their start in the industry and how you can do the same.
4. Ace the Interview
You should be prepared to answer questions about the beverage program you’ve developed. These questions may include how many bottles are in your wine cellar if you are keeping track of inventory, what wines you are looking to purchase, what wines are coming up on their peak consumption years, and whether you have taken food/beverage safety training.
Be positive and confident when answering interview questions. If you don’t know an answer immediately, say that you will look into it and get back to the interviewer at a later time. Be sure to follow up later with an email or phone call clarifying your response.
Review the past few sommelier tests that you have taken and practice answering questions similar to those found in our sample study guide for sommeliers. Remember to follow up after the interview with a thank-you note that reiterates your interest in the position and any key points that were discussed during your meeting. It’s always best to stand out in a positive way early on in the process.