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Successful sommeliers are wine experts that pro-actively take up roles wherever they find a gap in the wine industry that they feel they can fill in. This is true since a sommelier’s roles have become an ever-growing list in the past years. From designing palatable and profitable menus, handling inventory, to becoming the buyer of a hotel, roles of a sommelier have grown by leaps and bounds.
The International Sommelier Guild has an ISGM Sommelier Certification course which clocks 300 hours of sessions of a standardized curriculum which no one else has managed to capture up until now. The certification involves a series of 6 examinations and a dissertation with a mandatory requirement of attaining no less than 75% in each examination.
Sommeliers in order to get certified have to out perform some of the most grueling examinations in order to attain their Sommeliers Diploma / Certification. This begins with starting with a Sommelier Certification Programme from a well-known institute. Although sommeliers are not required to complete education in the field of wine, it generally works to become a feather in their hat of credibility.
You could be a wine enthusiast, or for that matter even worthy of becoming a sommelier, but actually becoming a certified one takes time, patience and a talented palate. It is this expertise of a sommelier’s devotion towards wines that leads to an ever-growing expansion of his/her roles in the industry of wine and spirit selling.
That’s about certifications, now you may ask what you would need to do after you’re certified. Sky is the limit to that!
Below are some industry roles of a successful sommelier that have been segmented into two, qualitative roles, and economic roles. They have been compiled not only from various readings but also from an interview of Jeremy Shanker, Master Sommelier, Lead Sommelier at Michael Mina SF with Beverage Trade Network:
Creating wine menus is one of the most critical economic roles of a sommelier. A wine menu must be profitable. Quoting prices of wine by the glass, designing a pairings menu are all ultimately undertaken for one objective purpose, i.e. to make a profit. A successful sommelier makes sure that he/she is not only aware of wines that customers like, but also how much various wines cost so that meeting demands and making profits co-exist.
Master Sommelier Jeremy Shanker in the interview with Beverage Trade Network mentioned that there was a particular Pinot Grigio in his inventory that had ended up becoming a non-seller at a time and he ultimately designed a dish in accordance with the chef which turned out to become a running special. Staying on your toes on any problems, and delving into it with an attitude of problem solving and arriving at creative solutions to minimize wastage unquestionably sets a successful sommelier apart from the numbers.
“We are at the lower end of the budget for most restaurants that have the same amount of selections that we do.” Jeremy Shanker, Master Sommelier, Lead Sommelier at Michael Mina SF. When a Master Sommelier at Michael Mina says something like that, it’s significant to pause and rethink why setting an inventory budget as a responsibility falls on a sommelier and not anyone else, and conclusively what outcome is expected from the sommelier. It is easy to blindly follow the way the inventory budget was met by the previously employed sommelier, but coming up with a completely unique method that breaks the plateau and brings in more people who take that 2nd glass while consistently meeting the budget every time is the hallmark of a successful sommelier.
There are ofcourse two broad categories in the wine industry, i.e. red wines and white wines. Broadly the type of grapes used is what ultimately decides the color and the type of wine, and at times even the name of the wine. Understanding these intricacies is what ultimately results in true sales. For instance let’s say you have a customer who has just walked in to experience your newly launched fine-dining experience restaurant. Would a server who has no understanding of wines be able to serve that person? - Maybe not. You never know who has entered your fine dining place and what if the customer happens to be a food and wine critique? Being served by a clueless staff member is certainly an impression that you don’t want them to leave with, not a critique and neither any customer for that matter.
Wine intimacy, is being upclose and personal with its aroma, acidity, sweetness, alcohol, tannin and body color. If a server has clearly identified the style of palate of its new customers, they are undeniably going to visit again. This is all it takes for turning a customer into a patron. To understand what they appreciate and to at times take risks by slowly suggesting them better wines to try than what they are asking for. And this means a either employing an expert sommelier, or educating your staff from time to time about wines and keeping them interested about what they sell through expert sommeliers.
Confidence, knowledge and experience go hand-in-hand. Co-creating this triangle in oneself could be easy for a successful sommelier, but creating that for someone else and making them believe that any one of these triangular edges if left blunt could become a recipe that would eventually crumple.
Hence a successful sommelier always recommends educating staff members and even owners towards building their understanding of wines and spirits to take a deeper interest if they are selling a fine-dining experience, or even are into retailing wines.
Managing, maintaining and updating wine libraries are a task if left to a novice is going to make things even more difficult than easier. A successful sommelier, may it be a cellar of 10 wines or a 100, he/she has been trained and has the expertise to manage the library. Owners of fine-dining restaurants and retail outlets have way too many wines to manage. Any walk-in customer could enter and ask for either a type of wine, ask for a suggestion, ask for something vintage, or might just ask for an exact name. If you have just purchased your stock and aren’t still familiar with it, how is it that you’d ever know if you have that wine or not. This is an issue that successful sommeliers solve in minutes, and completely prevent its happening from the ground up.
Managing a library and stock is one thing, picking out wines when someone has ordered a certain kind of meal is another. What wine goes with which temperature steak, which one goes with sushi, what are the kinds of wines preferred by pescatarians, what meal would agree with a dry wine, while which kind of meal would suit with a mellow sweetener are only a handful questions out of the entire question bank that customers expect answers to without asking just when they place an order for their meals. A successful sommelier creates simpler methods and colour patterns for a bartender or a server to understand the lot of cellar that he/she handles, making it extremely easy to deal with any customer that may come.
Not every master sommelier is successful. An x-factor of a master sommelier would be creativity, and the ability to identify the numerous gaps in the industry wherein they’d easily be able to become absolutely irreplaceable. A successful master sommelier will not only be able to gain an expertise of wines, and spirits but will be able to create his/her own road map towards newer ventures, roles, and atleast provide a signature on a brand that he/she trusts if not his/her home grown wine.