Just a few years back when people thought about a sommelier, the very first thing which came to their mind was a typically older man in formal dress who suggested wines and served them to customers at fashionable restaurants, but today this domain has expanded to reach young people of both sexes who work at a various mix of eating establishments. The reason for the change, in addition to the increasing competitiveness, is now a days wine has become more of a mainstream part of present culture and as a result, the position of sommelier has taken on a new importance. Besides suggesting which wine selection would pair best with a certain type of meal, present day sommeliers also create wine lists for their restaurants, stock them, register and add high quality wine on a regular basis. Furthermore, they also offer restaurant staff with some essential wine education. In spite of some problems, dedicated sommeliers express great job satisfaction. To them there is no greater remuneration than working with wine and introducing it to others.
Nature of work
A good sommelier enjoys suggesting the right combination of food and wine to the customer or diner. In a sense, a sommelier is a matchmaker, seeking to please customers taste buds with remarkable pairings of wine and food. A sommelier can take the customer far away from the basic rules of white wine with fish, red wine with red meat, to a territory of dining fantasy. He knows about every wine in the cellar and every dish on the menu and understands when to choose a wine that enhances the food and when to select one that will give them a difference. Even people who are well versed with wines can gain a good amount of knowledge from the ability of the sommelier.
Skills and Knowledge
It is observed that sommeliers vary in personality and their style of approach towards the guest, but knowledge of wines is one common skill which every sommelier should have. No doubt that many important aspects of wine can be learned through a variety of books, courses, and testing techniques but still there are some unique qualities of wine which a candidate must know before choosing sommelier as a profession.
A quick sense of taste so that the sommeliers can distinguish wines for qualities.
Proper business skills is necessary because sommeliers do everything from putting together wine lists to ordering wines.
Effective communication skill is necessary for proper interaction with clients mainly because before recommending a certain type of wine sommeliers should ask guests about the types of wine they prefer, their price preferences and so on.
Should be hungry for exhaustive knowledge on wines.
Should have a good sense of smell and taste.
Should love people and serving them.
A day in the life of a sommelier comprises working long hours, often during nights, weekends and holidays. They need to be night owls because that is when their services are in top demand. In addition, if you decide to pursue this career, either by training yourself or earning a certificate in the field, you must expect to devote a significant amount of time outside of the restaurant to read and keep abreast of latest wine selections and groom your management, hospitality and organizational skills in order to be a success.
Usually the candidate starts his or her career as an assistant in the hospitality industry, working under and learning from experienced sommeliers. After few years of working, a candidate can work alone. With much experience in this field, a sommelier often becomes a freelance wine expert and also gets several opportunities to work as a wine consultant for several restaurants and hotels. However, sommeliers can also look for employment in hotels, in sales team of wine manufacturers, with event planners and more.
Sommeliers also get ample opportunity to engage in a number of competitions held across the globe, which provide a platform to showcase their service skills and display their fine senses of taste.
Education, Training and Certification
Sommelier training can be obtained in many different ways. Gaining professional restaurant experience, pursuing professional courses from reputed organizations and functioning at wineries are the various possible avenues for growth of a promising wine expert. In addition, many people develop their wine knowledge through their own research. Aspirant chefs and restaurant managers who choose to practice culinary degree programs may also come across similar courses on combination of wine with food as part of their training program.
There are several institutions and organizations across the country which offer short and long term courses for sommeliers. The Culinary Institute offers certificate programs for wine professionals.
Compensation and Benefits
Salaries for sommeliers vary greatly depending on employer, experience, certification and of course location where he is working. Starting salaries are around 20,000 to 25,000 a month including bonus and commission while experienced sommeliers can earn around Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 a month. The job is more physically demanding than you might imagine. It’s a job for a night person, since most fine dining takes place during the evening and nights.
Prominent institutes offering sommelier training courses are:-
Madhuban Academy of Hospitality Administration and Research (MAHAR)
Hotel Madhuban, 97 Rajpur Road
Tel: 9012190008, 9012190009
Email: [email protected]
Culinary Academy of India, Hyderabad
6-3-1219/6A, Umanagar, Begumpet,
Hyderabad – 16, A.P., India.
E-mail: [email protected]
Indian Institute of Hotel Management
CB 135, Sector – 1, Bus Stop CA Market,
Kolkata – 700 064
West Bengal, India
The author is Hemant Kumar Kochar, the director of Madhuban Academy of Hospitality Administration and Research (MAHAR), one of the premier institutes in the country, offering comprehensive courses on Hospitality Admistration.