How to Become a Sommelier: Work in the World of Fine Wine
Sommeliers are experts in wine, and can tell you exactly which wine is perfect for a given dish — from a cheeky chardonnay to a fine pinot noir. If you love wine, travel, and meeting new people, a career as a sommelier might be for you!
What do sommeliers do?
Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of wine and our tourism industry provides a host of employment opportunities for wine lovers. Sommeliers (also known as wine stewards) work at vineyards, hotels, and restaurants.
Some typical responsibilities of these wine professionals include:
Understanding customers’ tastes, preferences, and budget and offering them something new you think they’ll love.
Offering food and wine pairing suggestions to customers.
This involves understanding proper serving techniques, glassware, and temperature.
Guiding wine tastings
Explaining to people the qualities of the wine they’re sampling. Customers will have a diverse range of wine knowledge, from the experienced connoisseurs to beginners – you’ll need to be able to communicate meaningfully with all of them as they taste wine.
Creating the wine list
Sommeliers often act as a wine buyer for an establishment, which involves tasting and buying a selection of wines. They also appropriately cellar and price wines. Sommeliers may do this in collaboration with other staff, such as the chef, ensuring appropriate wine and food pairings. They’ll also educate wait staff about the wine list.
Building wine knowledge
The best sommeliers can identify types of wine, their flavours, and the regions they’re from blindfolded! Developing that knowledge and keeping up to date with new wine selections is a big part of the career and keeps the job interesting.
Sommelier is a fun job. Even though customer-facing roles can be stressful, a sommelier’s accrued expertise and passion make them highly valued. Plus, you get to work in some of the most beautiful regions of the world, with customers who are most likely relaxed and ready to enjoy a great bottle of wine.
Job outlook for Australia’s hospitality industry
The hospitality industry in Australia is expected to enjoy strong growth over the coming years after recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Australian Industry and Skills Committee, the number of people employed in hospitality (including both food and beverages and accommodation industries) is expected to grow to have over one million workers by 2024.
Australia’s wine regions frequently host guests around the world, so the health of the wine industry relates to the health of the tourism industry. Obviously, with travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, wine regions will need to rely on the slimmer domestic tourism market. But as travel picks up, job opportunities in these regions will likely pick up too. Wine Australia predicts a recovery in the industry by 2024.
Passion for wine and knowledge about it are the most important job requirements. Most sommeliers have a mix of on-the-job experience and education, though there is no specific formal qualification required to be a sommelier.
You can build your knowledge and skills by:
You can visit different wineries, read books, and go on tastings and wine appreciation or even winemaking courses. These experiences allow you to have fun while dipping your toe into what the role would be like. Sommeliers start out as wine enthusiasts, so taking on this career path starts with developing this passion.
Relevant work experience that could help you progress towards becoming a sommelier could include becoming a fine dining waiter in a wine region, or working as a vineyard/cellar hand or assistant winemaker.
Vocational or bachelor degree qualifications in hospitality, culinary arts, viticulture, and tourism are useful for the role. Educators for these courses have many years or expertise to share with students.
Become a Certified Sommelier
Sommeliers can get recognition of their accrued expertise by taking a sommelier course through bodies such as Sommeliers Australia, the International Sommelier Guild, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) or the Court of Master Sommeliers. There are a range of sommelier certifications from introductory sommelier courses all the way up to advanced master of wine courses.
The highest level of accreditation the Court of Master Sommeliers offers is to become a recognised Master Sommelier: this is an intense process for truly dedicated, advanced sommeliers. Usually, candidates will have at least 10 years’ experience as a sommelier, and will already hold other qualifications. It involves passing a sommelier exam which some call the most difficult in the world – only 3-8% of candidates pass. The exam includes an oral section on wine theory, a wine service section, and a section where candidates have to identify wines in a blind tasting. Less than 300 people in the world hold this Master Sommelier Diploma accreditation after its inception in 1969.
Sommelier is a fun job that allows you to work and live in beautiful regions and talk to travellers from across the world about products you love. There are some challenges in the fact that there’s no single clear career trajectory towards becoming a sommelier, and because of the pandemic, there may be a downturn in demand for the role in the short-term.
That said, though exploring your passions and learning all you can about the world of wine, a sommelier job is both rewarding and within reach.
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