Do you love wine? Maybe you already work in hospitality. If so, learning how to become a sommelier might be a great option. A wine sommelier is a specialized career path.
If you want to help people choose the right wine, help restaurants better pair wine, and spend time learning about wine, this is a great career path for you. The following steps will help you with how to become a sommelier.
How to Become a Sommelier
Work in the Hospitality Industry
Before you decide to become a sommelier, one of the most important steps is to make sure this is the right career choice. First, you’ll need to gain one or two years of industry experience. Then, you can work at a restaurant, vineyard, bar, or winery to gain the right experience.
This will help you to understand the elements of the job. Then, with the right experience, you can get hired later on at an upscale restaurant as a wine sommelier.
Learn about Wine
The history of wine is rather long and deep. You want to learn about wine if you want to become a sommelier. Learning about the history, production, and different types of wines will help you on this career path.
Studying the history of wine can be done by reading the right articles and books. Subscribing to wine magazines and taking virtual classes can help. Learn the ingredients, production methods, storage methods, serving methods, and everything you can about wine.
Practice Your Tasting and Pairing Skills
You will need a discerning palate if you want to become a wine sommelier. Learning which flavors pair well takes time, and there’s no one-size-fits-all formula. Taking the time to learn how food pairs well with wine by testing your pairings on family and friends.
Learn about the winemaking process, attend plenty of wine events, and experiment on your own. Examine the different flavors and fragrances found within wine, as well. In addition, you should practice picking up on subtleties in the aroma and taste of wine.
Become a Certified Sommelier
If you’ve taken the time to do plenty of research about wine and you still want to become a sommelier, getting certified is necessary. You don’t need a degree to become a wine sommelier. Instead, you will need to earn the certification for wine sommeliers. You will need to gain some industry experience first, and you will need the right academic courses and skill-related courses.
After completing the right coursework, you will need to pass the exam. Coursework will cover wine theory, history, hospitality, and palate development. Thus, the exam will cover three steps: a taste test, a theory exam, and a practical service exam.
Once you’ve gained the right certification, you will likely work as an apprentice under an experienced sommelier. This is often necessary before you can be a head sommelier for a restaurant group or another business.
Different Certification Levels for Wine Sommeliers
There are many different certification levels for wine sommeliers. The CMS (Court of Master Sommeliers) offers four levels including:
- Level 1: Introductory Sommelier – The introductory course to becoming a Sommelier will include two days in a classroom and an exam. This course will cover wine and beverage theory, a wine tasting deductive introduction, and wine service etiquette. In addition, you will learn how to decant wine, along with choosing the right wines and how to pour wine properly.
- Level 2: Certified Sommelier – At this level, you will start to become proficient in the areas you learned in level 1. This level doesn’t include any course but a one-day exam in tasting, theory, and service. You will need this minimum level to start working as a sommelier in the hospitality industry.
- Level 3: Advanced Sommelier – You will take a three-day course and sit for a three-day exam if you advance to this level. You will need to have at least two years of work experience. The course will go deeper into theory, service, and tasting.
- Level 4: Master Sommelier – The final level from CMS is the Master Sommelier level. This level will require passing the Master’s exam. It will cover written theory, verbal blind tasting, and performative wine service. It’s difficult to reach this level, and most sommeliers won’t reach this level.
Along with these four levels of certification, there are many other wine education bodies offering certification. For example, you can also use the three-level certification program from the Institute of Masters of Wine. This program is heavier on academic study and wine theory.
Wine & Spirit Education Trust also offers a four-level option. This is another very popular certification for those looking to become a wine sommelier. You can also take courses in wine from any of the following:
- International Sommelier Guild: Offers three certification levels with an intermediate, advanced, and international sommelier guild member.
- Wine Spectator School
- Napa Valley Wine Academy
- Cornell University Wine Certificate
All of these programs offer certification options and courses to learn about wine.
Becoming a Sommelier Without Becoming Certified
You can become a wine sommelier without becoming certified. Typically, you will end up as a restaurant sommelier, but it can take quite a bit of time. It’s not a guarantee you can gain employment as a sommelier without certification.
Usually, you will start as a waiter at a fine dining restaurant. Then, you will work your way up to a head waiter position. Throughout your work experience, you will need to study wine and work with restaurant management to earn the position. Waiting for a sommelier position to open up if you take this path can take quite a long time.
Wine Sommelier: What Will You Be Doing
After you become a wine sommelier, you will be known as an expert when it comes to wine. You will understand wine theory, wine tasting, and wine service. It’s an academic pursuit but will also include plenty of wine tasting.
You will do more than just provide wine tastings and recommendations. Instead, you will train people to serve wine properly, along with many other jobs. As a result, you will be an important part of the hospitality industry.
As a wine sommelier, you will help pair the right wine with entrees and other courses. It’s common to help put together a wine list for a restaurant. It’s necessary to be well-versed in all things wine, including specific notes, woods, kind of wine, tannins, and the region the wine comes from.
It’s common for sommeliers to spend time visiting vineyards all around the world. It can be a career with plenty of travel. You will likely compete in competitions that may include blind tastings, as well.
At a restaurant, you will likely present the wine once it has been ordered. In some cases, you may be in charge of selecting the wine for diners.
Sommeliers may also help diners choose the right wine based on their budget and meal selection. It depends on the sommelier position, and it also depends on who you work for.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Sommelier
What is the average salary of a wine sommelier?
When you become a sommelier, you can earn a very nice salary. The range goes from about $48K to around $120K per year.
How many wine sommeliers are there?
While a complete list of actual sommeliers isn’t available, there is a list of master sommeliers. The list only has 269 names on it. A total of 172 of those master sommeliers are from North and South America.
What does sommelier mean?
While a sommelier is a job title, it’s also a certification. The definition is a wine steward, but the definition goes further when it becomes a job title. It’s more commonly used when referring to a wine sommelier for the definition to be a highly-trained wine professional.
Do I have to become certified to work as a sommelier?
No, however, it will help quite a bit. A certified sommelier is far more desirable than someone claiming to know about wine.
What is the cost of becoming a certified sommelier?
The typical cost to become a certified sommelier will be around $1,000. It will depend on the course you choose, and this will not include the cost of gaining experience with different wines at home.
Can I learn about wine with documentaries and movies?
Yes, there are quite a few things you can learn about wine from the right documentaries and movies. Some of the best options include:
- Barolo Boys
- Somm: Into the Bottle
- Our Blood is Wine
- Bottle Shock
- Back to Burgundy
- Wine Country
These films and documentaries can give you a peek into the industry, and you can learn plenty about wine.
Can I become a winemaker after becoming a sommelier?
Yes, and this is rather common. Sommeliers often become winemakers after gaining experience in the industry.
Can I become a sommelier for a beverage other than wine?
Yes. There are three other types of sommeliers. You can become a sommelier for beer, whiskey, or sake. A beer sommelier may also be called a cicerone.