I would imagine that most people in the wine industry (or even those not in the wine industry) have given thought to pursuing a career as a sommelier. Food, wine, people — what could be better, right? But it also takes hard work, persistence, and passion; and with all the options for education and training, it’s a little hard to know where to start.
I recently had the good fortune to meet (albeit virtually) Christie Dufault, the Wine Director at Quince, a celebrated restaurant in San Francisco. Christie was kind enough to share with me some advice she’s given to young people like myself, who are considering going down the path of becoming a sommelier.
Not Necessarily Invited (but well-meaning) Advice for Aspiring Sommeliers
1. Be certain you love SERVICE.
Being a sommelier is above all about service- and not just serving wine. A sommelier must be able to perform every job in the front of the house and jump into all aspects of service when the team needs it. Remember, being a sommelier means working in the restaurant/hospitality industry. It does not mean working solely in the wine industry.
2. Study Study Study. Taste Taste Taste.
Be sure that you have the desire to train your palate and to learn to be a fastidious taster.
Tasting wine analytically is not always fun at 9 o’clock in the morning. Tasting wine professionally is obviously not the same as drinking wine. In addition, be prepared to taste and to study wine laws & regions of wines that you may not even like.
3. Be an Assistant Sommelier.
You could be on the fast track to a great sommelier career if you assist an accomplished wine director. Be a sponge- learn everything you can about wines, service, purchasing, public relations and more. Work your butt off for your boss. Always make her look good.
4a. Get serious about food.
Eat. A lot. Know food. Cook-when you have time. Love food as much, no- more, than you love wine. Converse with chefs & cooks. Go to the farmers market. Smell everything. Taste everything you can. Try as many different foods as possible: be open-minded. Think about which wines would pair well with the foods you are tasting/cooking/receiving. This will teach you MORE about wine than you could ever imagine. I promise.
4b. Dine out a whole lot.
Spend your rent money at restaurants you really cannot afford. (Okay- don’t do that regularly, but once a year is acceptable.) Rather, dine out a lot, even at restaurants you can afford. Observe service. Study the menu. Study the wine list.
Ask questions. Recognize what you appreciate in service and food & wine pairing.
5. Be a wine ambassador to everyone.
Never be a wine snob- but you knew that. Rather, be a wine ambassador. Encourage people to try new wines, to make discoveries. Always remember that wine in moderation is healthful, so embody that. A glass of wine at lunch? Naturally. The world might just be a more peaceful place if people drank more wine and drank more wine together.
Posted by Jane.