A career where you get to drink wine for a living is difficult to fathom. For that career to be well-paying and not require a college degree is scarcely imaginable – but it is a reality for sommeliers.
Sommeliers are professional wine tasters. When it comes to wine – a very lucrative business – there is nobody more knowledgeable.
Having to go to college and get a degree isn't appealing or accessible for everybody. The idea of having to pay back student loans for years after graduating, without any guarantee of a job at the end of it, puts many people off. For others, it's the idea of staying in the education system for longer than needed and just want to break into the working world.
Well, even though it may not seem like it, not all good careers require you to have a degree – and we are going to look into one of them in more detail here.
This article aims to answer some questions you may have about the degree such as how you become one and what is the salary of a sommelier. We will begin by looking at what a day in the job might see you doing.
What Do Sommeliers Do?
So, what does a sommelier do? Well, it’s a lot more than just tasting and recommending wine, even though these are some of the core components of the role.
Sometimes known as a wine steward, this role requires an expert in wine. They must be able to provide an extensive knowledge of the available selection (and beyond). This means that they need to be informed about the grapes used in the wine, what region it originates from, the wines age and rating, and of course, what to expect from the taste.
Sommeliers must create wine lists for restaurants by figuring out what the best possible variety and appropriateness is. This means figuring out what wine will work best with the menu and different foods.
They will need to order the required wine for selling, and also then subsequently maintain it. It is also their role to provide at least a basic knowledge of wines to other employees who could benefit from the knowledge such as waiters.
The role may also involve travelling around the world tasting various wines and attending food and wine conventions to remain aware of developing trends and changes within the industry.
At the end of the day, the sommelier must aim to make a patrons dining experience as memorable and enjoyable as possible.
What Skills Do You Need To be A Sommelier?
Working as a sommelier requires a great deal of skill – skill built over time, but also intrinsically so. Below some of the skills that would see one excel are listed:
Extensive Industry Knowledge
Imperative as a sommelier. An outstanding knowledge of the wine market is a sommelier’s bread and butter. They must be able to differentiate the nuances of wine to make themselves a valuable asset to the establishment they work for and help provide the ultimate wine experience for their patrons.
The sommelier’s role is to be able to dive into their treasure trove of wine knowledge at will, and to do this, they will require excellent memory. This is a skill that is built-on over time – as you become more familiar with the industry and the nuances of your particular library, it will hopefully grow naturally.
Great Interpersonal Skills
Speaking and listening are essential to a high-quality sommelier. People who are looking for wine want to trust their sommelier – this means that they can be put at ease with the knowledge of their server, but also listened too. Having excellent interpersonal skills is a necessity of the role.
Following on from the memory aspects of a sommelier’s job, they must also be able to use there critical thinking abilities to recommend the absolute perfect bottle of wine for a patron’s tastes. These may be very specific, and as such, you should be able to suggest the perfect answer to these tastes.
Now, this is an unexpected skill, but one that may set apart a good sommelier from a great one. Alongside general communicative skill and industry knowledge, being likable as a sommelier can be one of the most sought-after attributes. It is something that comes natural to many, and can be worked on by others. If you can regale patrons with compelling stories and put them at ease, it will stand to you in being great at your job.
How Do You Become a Sommelier?
There are no specific requirements to becoming a sommelier except for one very important and unavoidable one: you obviously need to be above the legal age for drinking alcohol. Once you fulfil the criteria, you can technically become a sommelier, but realistically, someone with no certifications in the industry is very unlikely to secure a job.
Before attaining any accreditation you must first begin to develop your taste for wine. Without already having this you more than likely would not even consider a career in wine-tasting, so you may already have this. Some of this talent will come naturally, but there are other elements of it that come with training that will help you nurture the sensitive palate required to differentiate the minute nuances of wines.
Many sommeliers become interested in the role as a result of their time spent as a waiter. Many times, patrons will ask what is good on the wine list, and while one may be unsure at first, they may become equipped to properly answer these questions over time through experience.
There are several organizations and outlets across the United States that will assist you in having recognizable accreditation in wine-tasting to allow you to take your interest further in a professional capacity.
There are several programs available across the United States that lead to you ascertaining a wine-related qualification.
These courses instruct in areas such as variety of grapes, there characteristic, what pairs well when it comes to food/wine, the production of wine, evaluating and learning to enhance your senses and service techniques. Some of these traits may come naturally, but learning from the best is the only way to improve in the industry.
Once you have achieved accredation you will be in a position to seek employment. This process may require you to do an apprenticeship within the role or shadow a more experienced somemelier. You will have to become intimately familiar with the wine library of your employer.
If you would like to further your education and seek out other higher ranking roles, you can attain the highest honour a sommelier can bestow – becoming a Master Sommelier.
To gain this accreditation one must pass the Court of Master Sommeliers’ advanced exam, which is a key part of earning the title. It is a rare title and one that not many people across the world can claim to have, making those who do very in-demand.
Salary & Additional Benefits
As working as a sommelier requires you to be expertly trained, it is a job that generally offers a fine salary. According to the Court of Master Sommelier’s, earnings vary widely. As a sommelier starting out in a professional capacity, you could earn up to $28,000 per year.
This is the salary for someone with limited experience – as your experience grows, as does your salary – exponentially so. A Master Sommelier can earn anything from $80,000 to an astonishing $160,000 a year.
The title of Master Sommelier is a difficult one to ascertain and one that takes a great deal of time to reach, but if you can secure employment as a professional sommelier, then it is likely you will be making a very good living.
Some factors that will need to be taken into account when determining your salary is where you are working and who you’re working for. Alongside this, the aforementioned amount of experience you have in the role will also come into account when deciding how much salary you will be entitled to for your specialized services as a sommelier.
In terms of additional benefits that come with working as a sommelier, there are many. It’s a role that is generally only required in lavish establishments, and as such, brings good benefits. You may be entitled to perks such as health and dental insurance, vacation leave and more – but be sure to consult with your employer, as these may differ across the board.
You’ll also be incredibly knowledgeable in an industry that you’re passionate about. It’s generally a good sign of an establishment if they have a sommelier, so you will hopefully be working in a good workplace.
You may have been reading about the career of a Sommelier and been interested by many facets of the role, but are interested in hearing about other similar occupations. There other jobs out there that share many traits with that of a sommelier like that of a winemaker and a chef.
Winemaker's oversee the entirety of the wine making process. From field to glass, they are the people who make wine happen. If your passion from wine can be linked with good business knowledge and agriculture, then perhaps it is a career worth considering.
Chefs are the people who get the food to you in restaurants and other places where food is served. Their jobs involve the overseeing and preparing of food, but also advising and directing kitchen staff. It is a role that shares the same passion for the source material as a sommelier and also requires a renowned palette when it comes to taste testing to ensure the utmost quality.
Working as a sommelier can be a dream career. The opportunity to work in an industry that you are passionate about is what most people aspire to, and sommeliers are able to do that in a rewarding craft that offers a fine salary and does not require a college degree.
College is such an important part of society and offers a great way to expand people's knowledge, but it's not for everybody for a litany of reasons. It's also not an essential component in securing a career that you are passionate about – as the work of a sommelier proves – so don't rush into it and determine what your options are!