A definition of sommelier
I worked for a sommelier a couple of years ago who presented wines as they were story tellers. I loved being under his wing because he taught me a different side of wine. He made me see things from the perspective of the vineyard workers, he made me think about the climate that occurred the year the grapes were harvested, he made me think about the terroir and what was happening at the time the wine was bottled. This to me is the humble side. In fact, he is probably one of the most humble sommeliers I have ever met. And I could count how many humble somms I’ve met on one hand.
When I held my first sommelier position back in 2007, I was exposed to Italian wines more than most somms, but I never pretended like I knew everything. My first mentor taught me this quote early on in my career, “The more you learn about wine, the more you realize you know nothing”.
The more I learned, the more I realized how important humility should factor into my role as a sommelier.
That was beauty of learning about wine to me. The endless knowledge base that exists and consists to exist. It’s neverending.
Most somms I have met in my beloved city where I grew up are snobs. There, I said it. But it’s true. They think that once they earn the title, they could go around with a chip on their shoulder like they hold a position no one else can or will.
But times have changed. When I was first learning about wine, the somm kids on the block consisted of people who have been in the restaurant business for a long time. Who worked their way up the ranks of all positions in the front of the house. Who put in hours and hours of time learning, on paid and free time. Who gave up partying so they could study more.
These are the real somms and they don’t exist in numbers today. But these same somms went on to open distributions, import companies, become proprietors to restaurants, bottle their own wines made by their own hands. Some are ambassadors, some advocate for traditional methods of wine making and/or presentation. They went on to do things that mattered to them. They don’t care as much about the title, they care about doing what they love the most.
When I took my certification the first time, I was astonished of the careers/positions I came across of the other participants: food runner for six months, IT consultatant, teacher, various office positions, retirees, accountant, etc. It states in the Court of Master Sommelier website that level one, the Introductory Course and Examination, is open to restaurant and hospitality professionals. RESTAURANT AND HOSPITALITY PROFESSIONALS. I get the food runner position falls under this category, but this individual went on to pass her certification, never having been a server. That’s ridiculous in my eyes because being a sommelier is being a server: a steward of wine, offering all levels of hospitality.
I worked with another individual who couldn’t take serving after six months and went on to travel wine regions and enrolled in expensive wine classes on dispensable income her parents provided her with, only to end up as a wine director in downtown. Again, she only served for six months and quit the job because she couldn’t handle it. Really? That’s not a true hospitalian in my eyes.
You have to put in the time. You have to be humble. It should be earned. You can’t become a sommelier overnight. It just doesn’t happen that way.
I know I may seem harsh, but I brought this up because yesterday I came across a sommelier of new. Who didn’t put in their time. Who I don’t even know how they came into the role that I fought so hard to achieve, for 12 years.
You know what? I don’t care anymore because in the end, I am still a hospitality professional. I extend the kind of service that every guest deserves and can suggest food selections, cocktails recommendations, and wine pairings based on each guest’s personal preferences. And if I provide an offering that is not to their liking, I do whatever I can to replace it.
This is not me being cocky, it’s my being humble. Cause even I realize, in 12 years experience, I don’t know everything.