Become a Sommelier: Education and Career Information

Find out how to become a sommelier. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career as a sommelier.

Should I Become a Sommelier?

A sommelier, sometimes called a wine steward, manages the wine cellar at a restaurant. He or she may also work in sales and assist diners with choosing a wine that compliments their meal. In addition, sommeliers use their vast knowledge and expertise to help create wine lists for restaurants. Aspiring sommeliers can complete training at culinary schools or community colleges and earn optional certifications from professional organizations. Extended hours standing could be required, and stressful situations might be encountered in the pursuit of customer satisfaction.

Career Requirements

Degree Level None needed, associate's degree helps with career advancement
Degree Fields Sommelier or culinary arts with a focus on wine technology
Certification Optional certification is available from sommelier organizations
Experience Most sommelier positions require previous experience
Key Skills Business knowledge, people skills, sales ability, proficiency with computer programs such as spreadsheet setup, ability to stand for long periods of time, sensitive palate
Salary $45,548 per year (Median salary for all sommeliers, as of August 2015)

Source: Payscale.com

Step 1: Get an Education

While there are no specific educational requirements to become a sommelier, associate's degree programs in wine technology can prepare graduates for careers in this field. Aspiring sommeliers might also consider wine courses or diploma programs offered by culinary schools and professional organizations, such as the International Sommelier Guild. In these programs, students are taught proper methods for choosing, decanting and pouring wine. They can also learn how wine is made. Other topics of discussion include food and wine pairing, wine tasting, marketing and sales. Continuing education is recommended to keep up with changes in the industry.

Step 2: Earn Certification

Although voluntary, prospective sommeliers can acquire professional credentials by completing a certification program. Certification is offered by professional organizations, such as the Court of Master Sommeliers. This organization offers four levels of certification. Candidates must pass the introductory level exam before pursuing Certified, Advanced or Master designations. To attain certification as a Master Sommelier, applicants must pass an oral theory examination, a blind taste test and a practical exam on serving techniques.

Culinary schools may also offer certification to applicants who pass a wine tasting and written exam. Topics include grape varietals, international wine regions, wine service and wine pairings.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Some sommeliers begin by working in the food service industry under the tutelage of experienced sommeliers. In the meantime, they may take courses towards sommelier certification. Sommelier training is useful for individuals interested in taking on the responsibilities of beverage directors or restaurant managers. However, additional experience or education may be required for these positions.

Success Tip:

  • Gain proficiency in a second language. As part of the service industry, sommeliers are likely to encounter customers traveling from different countries. Additionally, an understanding of a foreign language may aid in purchasing stock from international vineyards. Many community colleges offer courses in a variety of languages. Romance languages, such as Italian or Spanish, as well as common world languages like Japanese may be the most useful for a prospective sommelier.

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