What is a Sommelier?

wine cellar expertIf you’re a wine lover, then you’ve probably had more than a few days where you’ve turned to the delicious elixir as a way to sooth your misery after a hard day at work. If you’re a big-time wine enthusiast, then you may have even wondered if there’s a way to enjoy the blessed beverage and make money at the same time. As a result, you may have thought about opening your own restaurant, bar, or vineyard.

Of course, to do any of these things requires a ton of commitment and even more cash. You could always take up bartending, but businesses usually frown upon their staff drinking more wine than the customers.

You may have also heard of something called a sommelier. But unless you’ve worked in the restaurant industry, attend high-end restaurants regularly, or speak French, then you probably have no idea what or who that is. So what is a sommelier? It’s the job wine lovers were meant to have.

So what do sommeliers do?

While you may be hoping that all sommeliers do is drink wine and give the vino they’re guzzling a thumbs up or down, unfortunately there’s a little more work involved. In French, sommelier means “wine steward,” which is a really short way of summing up what these professionals do.

Basically, a sommelier’s job is to know a lot about wine, as in, nearly everything about it. Just because you can tell someone that wines are made of grapes, or that Chardonnay is a type of dry white wine, doesn’t necessarily mean that you know your wine.

For example, a sommelier might be hired by a hotel or restaurant to put together a wine list that will suit the food they serve. Yes, if you’re used to drinking wine out of a box, then you might not know that some wine is better suited for certain types of cuisine. Sommeliers are also expected to know what wines are really good, and what’s currently trendy with the wine-drinking masses.

Some establishments will have a sommelier on staff at all times, or during busy nights, so that they can help customers choose a glass or bottle that fits their meal or particular tastes. Once they’ve selected a wine, a sommelier might open the bottle and show the customers how to properly sample and taste it. So, if you were hoping to drink wine off by your lonesome while you mutter to yourself, then a career as a sommelier might not be for you.

How do you become a sommelier?

Since sommeliers must know how a certain wine is made, how one type tastes compared to others, and what food goes best with it, clearly there’s a lot of knowledge involved. While anyone could claim that they know a ton of information about wine, when in fact they don’t, most businesses will only hire people that are certified sommeliers.

Getting certified typically requires completing a course in Viticulture and Vinification, which teaches you about the various types of wine, how they are made, and how they must be stored and maintained. Depending on the institution and the nature of the course, it may last for a few weeks or several months.

Courses can also vary in intensity, as some might require a person to attend one class per week, while another might involve multiple hours. Clearly, the longer and more intense the course, the more you will likely learn about wine. It’s also important to remember that, the longer a course is, and the more intensive, the more wine sampling involved.

Depending on the institution and where you live, you may be required to complete several different courses before you can land a job as a sommelier. For example, you may need to complete an introductory course about wine before you can take a more extensive one that will show employers you’re the vino expert they need.

How much money do they make?

The good news is that you can make a living by being a sommelier; however, just how much money depends on the situation. Some sommeliers might only work as independent contractors who build wine lists for various restaurants, while others might get hired on full- or part-time at a restaurant. Some sommeliers will do a little of both.

A less-experienced sommelier might earn around $30,000 per year, while a more seasoned and busy wine expert could make $50,000 or more for their services. If that doesn’t sound like a ton of cash, just remember that these figures don’t include all the free wine you’ll get to have…

Do sommeliers have any chance of a promotion?

If you’re hoping to make even more dough and become one of the planet’s leading wine snobs, then consider working towards master sommelier certification. This is the next step up in the career and, naturally, master sommeliers are expected to know even more about wine, including the financial aspects of the industry.

While it involves a lot more studying and courses, some master sommeliers make well over $100,000 a year. There’s got to be a worse way to make six figures annually.