you want to be a Sommelier or a SOMM !
What is a Sommelier?
Best I can tell, nobody really owns the rights to the
term or designation "sommelier". A sommelier
is just the French word for the wine waiter. This was
and is a separate
restaurant employee who is generally in charge of purchasing,
storing, making the wine
list and more importantly, the serving of the wine
to the customers both through personal suggestion and
and through education of the entire wait staff.
How do you pronounce Sommelier? A You Tube
Video demonstration (not Rick's voice!) SOMMELIER
(Try to say sommelier yourself and you may understand why
some choose to shorten it to SOMM...)
Here I am as
the sommelier at
at the South Coast Plaza Hotel
in Orange County,
California from 1983 to 1986.
In those days we wore a
tuxedo and a tastevin.
This sterling silver tasting cup
gave the sommelier
the power to steal wine
The formalities of the hotel also had
me to using
my full name, Richard. This was the only time
career I used it. Yet still, in 2016, 30 years later,
call me Richard.
Once a sommelier, always a sommelier?
What are your goals as a Sommelier?
we get started, let me explain that from my experience,
there are basically
to demonstrate by comparing
I personally saw as the basic differences between two
of the greatest wine growing regions in France; Burgundy
saw as more of a “salt of the earth” wine
growing region where many of the finest producers are
the actual farmers, growers, wine makers, bottlers, labelers
and more, all in one, or at least all in one family. These
people you could say truly live the land and they know
everything about what they do from their personal hands on
because they are working and living every aspect of the entire
process. Most own very small plots of land, sometimes just
a couple rows of vines within any number of vineyards or appellation
controlled areas. Each and every year is a make it
or break it event and so every detail is watched very closely.
Burgundians are very much a hands on community of individual
producers and lean towards the artistic side of the
wine making industry. A burgundy producer’s
wine knowledge tends to be more specialized to
their own area.
for the most part quite different. Many of the chateaus
are fairly large in comparison and all the vineyards
located on the estate itself. These chateaus are generally
owned and operated by wealthy individuals or families
(or corporations) many of which have little or nothing
actual wine making or producing process itself. Although
many have a great deal of knowledge about wine, it’s
value, the marketing of their products and they are
well acquainted with their competitors. Painting
in broad strokes I found it more of a whatever “money
can buy” type of wine growing area. Most producers
in Bordeaux can weather a lean vintage much
more easily than their Burgundian compatriots. Most
of the producers
met in Bordeaux tended to be more knowledgeable in
the competition and business end of the wine industry.
Of course both produce great wine but there are definite
differences between both these two great wine producing
and perhaps more so, the people that live and work
are your goals?
can help you to decide which path you might take
to become a sommelier.
How do you become a Sommelier?
Some options to consider:
a Mentor - This is more the hands
on Burgundian style where you find yourself a restaurant
where you love the wine list and style
of service and go work
there. Even if you start as a dish
washer (first job), bus person, waiter or whatever it takes,
working your way into the industry. Make it known
would one day
like to learn the sommelier’s responsibilities.
Be an eager learner and a great listener. Always
remember you are there to learn not to teach! This is how
into the wine industry, and I enjoyed the fact I could
concentrate more on the artistic aspects of the industry.
alternative to the above is to get a job with a respected
wine shop. You'll be amazed how much you'll learn just
by reading the labels as you're re-stocking wine into
the bins and shelves. You'll also have many opportunities
to hear first
reports on what they've purchased, tasted recently, or
are looking to buy and why. Listen and pay attention!
Enroll in a Certified Program - This
is more of the Bordeaux approach and you’ll have
to learn and memorize a combination of what you want
to know and many
which are just industry standards. There are a number of
programs (see list below) where you can get certified in
a number of
different capacities. Everything from a fun loving day
class to the becoming of what is called a “Master
takes many years of training, testing and continued learning
I believe it has a failure rate of about 97%.
Last I saw there were only about 230 people in all the
world (or was it just the USA?) who have
earned the "Master Sommelier" designation since
Start with some self teaching -
You may want to begin by seeing if this is what you really
to do. If you're not confident with you're tasting method
try ours - "What
To Look For In Wine" - In 1983, I was hired at
Alfredo's South Coast Plaza Hotel as the single sommelier
in a room large enough to make it difficult to get to every
table. I was on commission, and I soon learned I needed
figure out how to get some help. So I wrote the original
booklet and created a tasting class hoping to inspire the
waiter staff, some
at the time had no problem just taking drink orders. My
was to give the entire staff the confidence
to "talk wine" so they
then help their customers not only find the wine they
wanted but to also boost the waiters sales (um, lets be
honest, this was the waiters true motivation and the only
way I could sell the program...) But, by learning
to really "taste"
and discuss wine for
themselves, they not only had a lot more fun, they were
tell the customer the differences between both low and
more so, the many bargains
I went out of my way to include on the wine list.
The wine sales at Alfredo's restaurant increased so much
in the nation and both the F & B director and
my manager were a little put off by how much money I was
a part time job. This vast increase came about simply because
the staff became far more confident on how to "talk
plain everyday language. Table talk became an educated
learning and sharing experience rather than a sales pitch..
It not only boosted sales it increased return customers
and we became a very wine friendly restaurant.
Alfredo's I did a short stint at the Golden Truffle
Greeley. Let's just say Alan and I had way too much fun
and I left to start a wine school that taught both industry
professionals and the general public
High Time Cellars
Mesa. "What To Look For In Wine" (our how to
taste wine class) was by far our most popular class and
for the wait staff at numerous restaurants in the Orange
County area. Later, I updated it with color pictures
I was still "Richard" the sommelier (even though
I had moved back into chef in the kitchen) and many wanted
to learn how
to taste wine like a professional sommelier. As a professional
in this business for many decades now, it's still the learning
to taste properly and confidently that is without a doubt
the first and most important step into the world of wine,
to turn pro or not.
What makes a great sommelier?
Some of the qualities a great sommelier should have include;
Focused - You must be able to block out
the world and concentrate on what’s in front of you.
This goes for both the wine your tasting and the customer
Highly Motivated - The competition is both healthy and a reality.
You must stay on top of your game.
Well Educated - And able to retain
details. You need to know everything possible
about what you choose to serve on your wine list so you
can share it with
your staff and your customers. The list is
long and includes things like; geography,
farming, historical details, numerous legal matters, current
events and so much more.
Energetic - Let’s face it,
you’re on your feet
for the entire shift, calmly running this way
and that, polishing all those glasses and having
for service, and putting all that wine away?
It takes both physical and mental stamina.
Humble - This is the kind of vocation
where one is constantly learning and in a very
short time you realize you can never and will never
know it all.
Open Minded - You’re continually exposed to something
you’ve never had before.
Loves Food - Let’s face
it, table wine is that, served at the table
with food. The more foods
and types of food you enjoy and expose yourself
to, the better you can relate to your customer.
Has a Great Palate - This you
continue to develop and refine over your entire
career. A good basic tasting knowledge, with
long friend with cascading
benefits. Need help? Learn to taste and talk
To Look For In Wine"
A People Person - If you don’t love working closely and
intimately with people, don’t bother.
A Great Communicator - I
said a communicator not a talker. You must
to tell both your staff and your customer
you have available
and why. Most diners want to know what you’d recommend
for their dish, they don’t what
to hear everything you know.
A Great Listener - In my
opinion the most overlooked aspect of being
you need to really listen to your customer
so that you can then determine
what is is they really want.
A Great Mediator -
You also have to be able to hear the whole
at the same time.
There will be times when you have to hear
the "talkative" showoff with
the wine list to catch the faint whisper
more in tune gal at the far end of the table.
Then you're going to have to figure out
how you're going to address the situation
at the same time being respectful to both..
A Respected Partier - But not
a drunk. Quite frankly this is probably one
of the harder parts of the job! The ability to
fully enjoy what
you do without ever overdoing
In Addition - To continue
do the job well one must be willing to constantly
up with what’s going on in the industry,
currently available and what the trends are. In my day a
sommelier pretty much kept to "table wines" and
all things made from
wine must (cognac, armagnac, brandies, ports, dessert wines
etc.) Today, and depending on where you choose to work,
some sommelier's are required to have great depth on all
spirits, liquors, and in a few instances (and I got to
laugh here) even
the proper opening of sparkling wine at our schools most
popular class "What To Look For In Wine"
participants learn to taste the different components of
the grapes themselves. Numerous classes were held
bar from 1986
to look into to further your education or get certified;
OF WINE EDUCATORS
THE NEPTUNE SCHOOL OF WINE
AMERICAN SOMMELIER ASSOCIATION
INTERNATIONAL WINE CENTER
INTERNATIONAL SOMMELIER GUILD
INSTITUTE OF MASTERS OF WINE
Should you become a Master of Wine?
NEW YORK WINE & CULINARY CENTER
RUDD CENTER FOR PROFESSIONAL WINE STUDIES
WINE & SPIRIT EDUCATION TRUST
COURT OF MASTER SOMMELIERS
Should you become a Master Sommelier?
The single most important part to becoming a Sommelier,
or a serious wine collector, is simply learning
to taste wine!
you're not confident with your wine tasting skills,
this is Rick's straight forward professional step by step
process where he
shows you how a pro uses all of his/her senses to properly
evaluate any and all wines regardless of their price or quality.
Rick says, "with a little practice it becomes as normal
as breathing, you just do it naturally!"
in both book and video formats!
Which is best? The book gives
the greater detail and you can be slow and meticulous.
The DVD and online videos give you
of a "live
class" experience and Rick says don't try to watch it without
a tasting glass of wine each time you go through it.
together work best...
book is available at our Create Space e-store
get it at Amazon.com
the online book on Kindle!
Get the DVD and
learn to taste "live" with Rick over and over!
DVD at Create Space e-store
it is at Amazon.com
available in HD Video On Demand at Vimeo!
the trailer, then,
or Buy online in HD!
understand this is not a "show" or for entertainment
purposes, this is a no-nonsense presentation of the
method a true professional sommelier or world class wine
collector uses to evaluate wine.
both the DVD's and the online videos, it's suggested you participate
by having a tasting glass
of wine each time you go through the
steps. The class then comes
For more info see here;
To look For In Wine