How to Become a Sommelier: Part 1
People ask me all the time on how someone becomes a Sommelier, or how did I decide to become one? Did I go to school for it? You have to really love wine and immerse yourself in it. People might think it’s easy because hey, it’s wine! How hard can that be? It’s certainly not the most difficult things to learn, but the sheer amount of information would intimidate a med school student.
Traditionally, Sommeliers held some position in a restaurant and studied all there was to know about wine, and then worked their way into the position. Being a Sommelier in a restaurant isn’t as simple as knowing wines or food pairing. You need to know what it’s like to work in a restaurant and how to do most of everything. It was such a niche that if studied enough, you had no competition.
Another process to becoming a Sommelier is getting a certification. There are sommelier certifications offered through organizations like the Court of Master Sommeliers, International Sommelier Guild, WSET and American Sommelier. The International Sommelier Guild and American Sommelier are the only ones I know of that offer actual schooling. The Court of Master Sommeliers is probably the most well-known; they have four levels of certifications where you study on your own, pay to take a test, and get a pin if you pass.
Does acquiring any of those certifications guarantee you’ll get a job as a Sommelier? How do you get a job as a Sommelier? Those certifications give you a leg up, but they don’t guarantee you a Sommelier job. It’s still important to work in a restaurant (preferably fine dining), bar or Wine & Spirits distributor.
Becoming a Sommelier is like going to school for Psychology. Graduating with a degree in Psychology doesn’t mean you’re a psychologist when you get out. Until someone pays to do so, you’re not a psychologist.
No matter what, you need restaurant experience. If you’ve never worked in a restaurant you may have to start low on the totem pole and work your way up. It’s not rocket science to be a server, but it’s also not easy, especially in fine dining. If you have to start as a busser, start as a busser and bust your butt. Having a culinary background doesn’t hurt either.
Once you’ve got some serving or bartending experience under your belt along with the certification or schooling you’ve at least reached the point to where you’re a viable candidate to get a job as a Sommelier. Sometimes it’s having the right connections or right place/right time. That’s honestly how I became a Sommelier.
I did the Sommelier schooling and obtained the certifications. Through someone I knew I got a job as a server in a casual restaurant, worked there for eight months, and then a friend of mine who was a Sommelier was leaving his position, recommended me, I interviewed and boom!
The Modern Somm