How to Become a Sommelier
Making a career out of helping others enjoy wine is a noble calling. As the person in charge of wines for a restaurant, to become a sommelier, you must learn everything there is to know about wines. But, to really be successful, the sommelier must know all about food as well. After all, the “somm” will be recommending the wine for the guests to pair with each dish that is served.
A well-rounded education
As part of their culinary arts or baking & pastry arts education, all students at The Culinary Institute of America take an intensive Wine Studies course during their sophomore year. For those interested in learning more about the beverage segment of the hospitality business, students in the bachelor’s degree programs may pursue a concentration in Advanced Wine, Beverage, and Hospitality, which includes a semester in the center of America’s wine country, California’s Napa Valley.
Among the many CIA graduates who have gone on to become celebrated sommeliers are Carlton McCoy, Gretchen Thomas, and Kyungmoon Kim. But, whether or not you hold a degree from the CIA, you can get a head start on the road to becoming a Master Sommelier by studying in the CIA’s Wine and Beverage Graduate Certificate program, based at the college’s Greystone campus in the Napa Valley.
Intangible requirements to become a sommelier
Another important trait of a quality sommelier is the ability to read people well—to the extent that he or she can sense what the guests will enjoy even if they can’t articulate it. “Sommeliers must have the intuition to be able to suggest wines and beverages that will please the customer,” says Chef Bruce Mattel, CIA senior associate dean of culinary arts. “They also need to have a feel for what is in the guest’s price range, without asking the question directly.” That’s because guests who are thinking about how much the bottle of wine costs won’t be able to take pleasure in the experience of sharing that wine at their table—and one vital skill for a sommelier is to help make their guests enjoy that moment.
Sommeliers who do their job best also educate without being preachy. Says Chef Mattel, “A good sommelier should be able to expand the horizons of his or her guests by encouraging them to go beyond traditional food and wine pairings and try something less orthodox they might enjoy.”