A wine sommelier or wine steward is an expert in wine, beer, spirits, and even the proper after-dinner cigar. Typically, the finest restaurants have at least one wine sommelier. It is their primary duty to develop restaurant wine lists, coordinate with wine vendors and work closely with a culinary team. They are also in charge of training the staff on proper serving protocol, etiquette and beverage knowledge. The wine sommelier enhances the dining experience by suggesting and pairing wine, beer or spirits with appropriate menu items, providing guests with a sensory experience by offering information and knowledge.
The duties of a wine sommelier also include:
It is not necessary to go through formal training to become a wine sommelier. However, it may be extremely difficult to find employment without certification or training, and becoming a certified sommelier will provide a higher level of prestige. Studying a course while learning practical skills on the job is a good way to gain product knowledge and experience.
Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended:
• Physical Science
• Agricultural Sciences
• Hospitality Studies
Cape Wine Academy
Cape Sommelier Course
University of Stellenbosch
Wine Evaluation Course; Bachelor of Science (Agriculture): Viticulture and Oenology
UCT Graduate School of Business
What does a sommelier do?
Well, simply put, it’s all about aesthetic analysis of wine; being able to pair wine with food while brushing aside all the complications, and being able to explain and recommend wines to guests without coming across as arrogant or snobbish.
What is required?
A combination of a complex love for viticulture, people and diversity in the culture of wine and service.
Where did you study?
Through Getsmarter. I completed a course in Wine Evaluation under the University of Stellenbosch’s Faculty of Viticulture and Oenology, and completed a Tasting Diploma at UCT Graduate School of Business under Michael Friedjohn, as well as a certificate with the Cape Wine Academy.
Describe a day on the job
Doing this interview; going through appointments with winemakers, suppliers, etc, and making sure all the wines are available as advertised, with their correct vintages; doing wine training with staff; getting on with wine service and making sure all diners get the very best service out of me and my team – which is my main goal.
What do you love most about your work?
Everything about my job is a constant pleasure. Perhaps if computers were nonexistent, my job would be the best in the world!
So what don’t you like?
The aforementioned computers, and bad-smelling people.
Hurdles you’ve overcome…
Having not been born in the world of wine, I had to work much harder on both the academic side and theoretical aspect of wines. With the Western Cape being the heart of wines, I had to make a tough decision to be based there, while my family live in Durban.
Career highlights so far?
Being awarded South Africa Young Sommelier of the Year 2008, and coming fourth in the world.
Your future plans?
I don’t want to spoil the occasion, but I have massive and concrete plans for the future!
How does experience compare to training?
Academics play a very important role, while experience makes one seamlessly handle any situation.
Describe a ‘successful’ sommelier
You have to be passionate about lifestyle and healthy living. You have to have love and patience for people and not be snobbish about what you know, and you absolutely have to be very well groomed… ‘a cheap-looking person will never sell me anything’.
Advice for youngsters…
You’ll need patience, determination and a passion for lifestyle. Remember that, in the end, wine is a beverage that contains alcohol and those that have a love for wine will never abuse it.