You don’t just like wine. You love it.
You daydream about starry nights spent browsing endless wine cellars. You grimace when restaurant-goers order Pinot Grigio with their sirloin steak. You think about wine appreciation every hour of every day.
Well, you just might be a budding sommelier.
This esteemed profession is reserved for those who care deeply about viniculture. In the course of their duties, a sommelier must demonstrate serving elegance, all-encompassing knowledge, and, most importantly, a vibrant passion for winemaking and wine appreciation.
Think you got what it takes?
Let’s explore the different paths to becoming a sommelier and discover how you can prepare yourself to become a budding starlet in the world of fine wine.
What Is A Sommelier?
Before we learn how to become a sommelier, let’s learn a bit more about what exactly a sommelier does.
A sommelier wears many hats. Here are some of the responsibilities they might complete in a single shift:
- Choosing the wines served at a restaurant.
- Going to wine tastings and reviewing new vintages.
- Recommending conventional and unconventional pairings for each dish on the menu.
- Guiding waiters in proper wine serving technique.
- Answering any wine-related questions the customers may have.
How Much Does A Sommelier Earn?
Salaries for sommeliers range far and wide, though the average earnings hover somewhere between $50K-120K a year. This depends greatly on your business, location, and experience.
A Michelin-starred restaurant in the heart of New York might pay well upwards of six figures for an all-star sommelier. Meanwhile, an upstart fusion restaurant in the Midwest might only offer half as much for a recently accredited sommelier.
Of course, pay isn’t everything. A sommelier might find much greater joy and fulfillment growing in a lively restaurant in a vibrant community compared to a well-established, more formal fine dining experience.
How To Become a Wine Sommelier
We’ve broken the journey to becoming a sommelier down into three broad steps:
- Learn everything there is to know about wine.
- Become well-acquainted with the restaurant industry.
- Earn a sommelier certification and start job hunting.
Spelled out like this, it almost seems simple. Of course, each of these stages demands intense study, passion, hours, and devotion to stand out from the pack.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these stages and examine how you can excel through every phase of your sommelier journey
1. Expand Your Wine Education
Whether you take guided classes on viniculture or prefer a self-taught approach, the first step to becoming a stellar sommelier is education.
You’ll have to hit the books and learn how to taste wine like a professional sommelier.
While there’s no one right way to taste wine, there are specific strategies that sommeliers use to make professional assessments of each sip.
For example, you’ll learn to look for tertiary flavors of wood, toasted, spice, and tobacco in red wine. If instead, you find clove and vanilla most prominent, then you’ll be able to make an educated guess that the wine most likely was aged in French oak.
While you become more in touch with your taste buds, you’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the top wine regions of the world. Learn a brief history of the different regions within California wine country. Brush up on the trailblazing vineyards making waves across the New World from Australia to Argentina.
And of course, dive deep into the textbooks to learn the traditional winemaking methods synthesized by the Old World in France and Italy.
Every new nugget of knowledge might raise two new areas of interest. You’ll need to foster an unquenchable thirst for viniculture education.
2. Become Well-Versed in the Restaurant Industry
After you’ve checked out every book from the library you can get your hands on, it’s time to brush shoulders with those in the restaurant industry.
Scour job boards. Connect with your friends and broader network to see if they have any openings available. Now’s not the time to be picky. You can always improve your job once you have one, but first, you have to get your foot in the door.
If you don’t have much prior experience, you might have to start as a busboy. While this might be discouraging, try to view this experience as a training ground where you can study from the best without putting your head on the chopping block.
Once you’ve established yourself within the restaurant, ask your resident sommelier if you can shadow them on your day off. Chances are, they’ll say yes. Professionals love passing on their skills and knowledge to the next generation.
Learn from their routines and their mistakes, and above all, ask questions.
Pop open a bottle of Champagne without spilling a drop. Hone your multi-tasking skills, balancing a half-dozen different orders in your mind.
Of course, there will be mistakes along the way. Think of the hospitality industry like a muscle. The more you work at it, the better you’ll become.
3. Earn Certification
While climbing the ladder in the hospitality industry, consider working towards a sommelier certification.
While it’s not absolutely necessary, completing a certified sommelier examination will give you a leg-up compared to the other candidates in your field.
Create a study group within your city. It’s always useful to network with rising professionals within your field, especially within the hospitality industry.
Once you’ve attained your certification and demonstrated excellence in the restaurant business, pop open a bottle of bubbly and head to the classifieds section — it’s time to apply for jobs.
As you’re looking for sommelier positions, remind yourself that you’ll likely your do the best work wherever you feel the most at home.
Surround yourself with co-workers who care about creating the best culinary experience possible.
Final Tips for the Budding Sommelier
There is no single, clear-cut path to becoming a sommelier. Some started working in the restaurant industry at 15 years old and learned their craft on the job. Others took the classical education approach and studied long nights surrounded by textbooks.
The truth is, neither approach is complete without the other. You’ll need a wealth of hands-on training as well as an extensive knowledge base.
While the journey can be long and winding, it’s all worth it in the end if you’re able to do what you love. For many sommeliers, there’s no greater joy than introducing their favorite customers to their new favorite vintage.
If you’re able to succeed in this challenging, fulfilling career, you’ll find yourself coming home late on a lot of tired nights.
What if, after an exhausting shift, you want to leave your job at the door? What if you simply want to prop your feet up and have someone else serve you for once?
That’s exactly why we created the Wine Connoisseur.
This personal sommelier system perfectly calibrates your favorite varietal to its optimal serving temperature. The Wine Connoisseur aerates your wine, opening up its subtle flavors and breathing new life into each sip.
With our personal sommelier, you can also take full advantage of our eco-friendly wine sachets. Seek out crisp white wines like our Morning Fog Chardonnay in our For Goodness Sake, Drink Some Wine Collection.