How to Become a Sommelier
Let’s’ make it very simple, let’s start with an example: not everyone that you see out there wearing a chef coat, is a chef. When you graduate from a culinary school, you are a cook, not a chef. In the kitchen we have different levels and only the chef, the one who designs the recipes, the menu, and oversees the kitchen, can be called a chef. Other positions can be called cook, line cook, sous chef or executive chef. In other words, it will take years of experience to become a chef and you can learn something new every day of your career.
When it comes to wine, it is a similar story. Not everyone that works in the wine industry or has a certification, is consider a sommelier. You can get certified if you want to become an educated enthusiast or collector, a wine educator, a wine professional (sales, distribution) or a sommelier.
But, I will be a sommelier after getting my certification? No. A sommelier is a wine waiter or a trained professional that provides the service of wines, in a hotel or restaurant. If you want to learn how is a day in the life of a sommelier, read this interesting article from WSET.
When it comes to become a wine educator it is even more complicated. You need to be prepared for questions at all times and make sure you are guiding the audience in the right direction. We see this all the time, so many “educators” out there but without the proper background. I wanted to ask Sarah Malik our DIPWSET educator at Vitis House and the Beverage Director for the Johnson & Wales in Charlotte, just to have her thoughts:
“In order to be an educator, you need to make sure you have the right credentials, but also the experience. This is why most of the experienced educators in the industry are in their 50’s or 60’s. We always recommend our students to get certified with L3 or L4. But you also need to take other certifications to constantly refresh and compliment your knowledge. You need to work harvest, travel to different wine regions (not only Napa), maybe work in retail, export or distribution and taste and taste and taste”, says Malik.
The most respected globally certification providers are: the Court of Master Sommeliers and Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). Both require years of dedication and strategic study. Students usually require multiple attempts at the final exams and many never pass.
The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS), emphasis in service skills. It trains sommeliers to understand, recommend and serve the wine, including most important producers, vintages, ratings and tasting.
You have to go through the Intro level (CMS I), the Certified level (CMS II), the Advanced (CMS III), and the Master Sommelier Diploma (CMS IV). Those who wish to take the Master Sommelier exam must have passed the Advanced exam, have typically worked in the industry for at least 10 years, and have to be invited to sit the exam. This is the highest distinction a professional can obtain in beverage knowledge and service. There are less than 300 in the world.
The Master of Wine is a more theoretical discipline, and there are currently only about 350 MWs in the world. After an average of 3 years studying for your WSET Diploma, the MW takes additional years of dedication.
The Masters of Wine recommends the WSET curriculum (L1-4). WSET Level 1 is a basic intro level. WSET Level 2 offers a broader overview of wine varieties, factors influencing the production of wine, as well as a focus on tasting techniques and wine pairing. WSET Level 3 goes deeper with coverage of every major world wine region and an advanced tasting program as students examine the soil, climate, viticulture and winemaking factors that influence wine style, quality and price. Then go to Level 4 to achieve the Diploma, an expert-level qualification covering all aspects of wine all over the world.
In other words, MS and MW are very different and both of them notoriously difficult. If you really want to be part of this wonderful world of wine, get ready to get multiple certifications, travel, taste as much as possible and let’s try to make an effort in calling each wine professional the right way.
Whether you want to get certified because you love wine, you collect, you work in the industry or you want to become a sommelier, we are happy to help you in your journey. One thing we can guarantee you…. It is a very rewarding path full of extraordinary experiences.