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The term sommelier comes from the French word used to describe someone who transports supplies. It's most commonly used to describe a wine steward in a restaurant who is well-versed in the company’s wine selection and helps patrons choose wines to pair with various foods. To become a sommelier, you must undergo specific training and develop a fine-tuned palate.
Get Some Experience
Hands-on serving experience can help you land a gig as a sommelier. Either before you enter a sommelier program or while you are going through the certification process, work as a server in a restaurant. The experience prepares you to work with customers and gives you a close look at how the industry works. Working with a chef and vendors prepares you to perform other duties as a sommelier, such as determining the restaurant’s wine needs and stocking the restaurant’s wine cellar.
A number of schools and organizations provide training in the fine art of tasting and choosing wine. No other educational prerequisites are needed to become a sommelier, nor to gain admittance into a program. The International Wine Guild, for example, has locations around the country and offers five diploma options, four of which are geared toward professionals. Wine enthusiasts can take the non-professional course. The Sommelier Society of America offers a 21-week certification course that prepares professionals and enthusiasts alike to talk about and effectively sell wine. The course covers varieties of grapes, wine production, wine pairings and sensory evaluations. Because schools require that you taste the wine, you must be of legal drinking age to take the courses.
Advance with More Training
When you can demonstrate a high level of social and technical skills around the service of wine, you may be eligible to take the globally recognized Master Sommelier test and move into a distinguished league of professionals. According to the Court of Master Sommeliers, which administers the test, only about 10 percent of candidates who take the test pass. The exam tests your knowledge of wine regions around the world; wine varieties and winemaking; international wine laws; and storage and handling procedures for wine. In addition, you must be able to knowledgeably speak about cigars. Prepare for the exam by taking the introductory, certified and advanced courses through the Court of Master Sommeliers and maintain your knowledge of wine, its origins and its presentation. Your palette and presentation skills should be finely honed through your work before you take the test.
Find a Job
Sommeliers typically are employed in high-end fine dining establishments for dinnertime service. Work your way into a position by starting in the kitchen or by waiting tables as you gain certifications. Or join an industry organization to help find a permanent sommelier position. For example, the Guild of Sommeliers provides a job board for members. Students of the International Culinary Institute, meanwhile, have access to career placement services on campus. Keep in touch with your instructors and fellow sommeliers to learn of opportunities as they arise.
- Merriman Webster: Sommelier
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: You’re a What?
- Washington Post: Sommelier Certification
- The Sommelier Society of America: 21 Week Sommelier Certificate Course
- The Court of Master Sommeliers: Becoming a Master Sommelier
- International Wine Guild: How to Become a Sommelier
- Guild of Sommeliers: Member Network
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."