One of the most prestigious and highest paying careers in the hospitality industry is that of a wine sommelier. Median sommelier salary at the introductory level begins at $40K and skyrockets to $150K at the master sommelier level.
Cultivating a Career as a Sommelier
Making the leap from introductory to master level requires years of training, study and experience but it is achievable for those committed to pursuing this career path. In fact, there are several ways one can improve their chances of ascending to the top of the field while working toward sommelier certification.
Immerse Yourself in the Food Service Industry
A career as a wine sommelier requires ambition, the willingness to commit to a long-range plan, and most importantly, experience in the food service industry. While you may have to start at the bottom, if you make your ambitions known and are willing to work hard, a career path from server to manager to beverage director to sommelier is possible.
Tap Into the Experts & Partake of the Wine
Tap into the expertise of those who run your local wine shop. Ask for recommendations and soak up as much of their knowledge as they’re willing to share. Finally, allocate a budget for buying, tasting (and spitting out) a variety of wines to instruct and inform your palate.
Drink Up As Much Knowledge As You Can
Take a course to familiarize yourself with wine varieties, wine theory and tasting methodology. Attend wine tastings and learn about food pairings. Read online articles or visit the library for instructive books on wine, such as Wine Simple: A Totally Approachable Guide from a World-Class Sommelier by Aldo Sohm and Christine Muhlke.
Visit local vineyards and ask questions about winemaking. Understand the process, the grapes, the growing conditions, all things wine. Better still, travel to world-renowned wine producing regions such as California wine country, France, Chile or New Zealand.
The Sommelier Levels
Sommeliers are certified at four different levels and each level must be completed before moving on to the next.
- Level 1: Introductory Sommelier. Study at this level is focused on basic wine and beverage theory as well as deductive tasting methodology and wine service etiquette. Achieving Level 1 requires two days of education followed by an exam.
- Level 2: Certified Sommelier. Level 2 students study the same topics as level 1, going more in-depth on theory and methodology. Level 2 students are expected to be proficient in these topics. The exam to earn certification includes a blind tasting, a written theory test and a live service demonstration.
- Level 3: Advanced Sommelier. To achieve this level, a student must attend a three-day advanced sommelier course after which they sit for a three-day assessment. To qualify for the course, a student must have a minimum of two years restaurant service experience. To take the assessment, students must have completed the course, have a minimum of three years restaurant experience, and be currently working in the food service industry.
- Level 4: Master Sommelier. To reach this level, a student must undergo an assessment that includes sections on written theory, blind tasting and practical wine service. Only those who pass 75% of each section achieve the master sommelier level. As of 2020, there are 267 master sommeliers in the world.
Sommelier is not only a lucrative career but a gratifying one as well. Years of study and working to gain experience can result in one of the most rewarding and distinguished designations in the restaurant industry.