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A nice glass of wine can accompany almost any meal, and for many, it’s become not just part of a fancy meal out or a celebratory toast, but a hobby. A burgeoning industry has cropped up around wine tourism in recent years. Winery tours, wine festivals and tasting events, and even classes, fermenting kits, and recipes for making your own wine at home have become quite common. Many people enjoy these types of activities for entertainment and recreation. However, for those who are serious about the hobby and wish to make a career out of it, there’s the option to become a sommelier.

The Role of a Wine Steward

So what exactly is a sommelier? A sommelier, a.k.a. wine steward, is a wine expert. Such individuals are extremely knowledgeable and have undergone extensive training and certification exams. Many times sommeliers work in high-end restaurants and are responsible for procuring and rotating various wines and ensuring they are appropriately stored. They may educate the waitstaff on proper wine service and wine pairing suggestions. They also work closely with the culinary team to suggest wines that will complement the menu. This requires them to be knowledgeable of both wines and food. In some cases, today’s sommeliers also have a wealth of knowledge about cocktails, spirits, and beer. 

History of the Sommelier

Sommelier is a French term that stems from the word “sommerier,” meaning herdsman, a position which evolved and became more specialized until it came to mean the one responsible for transporting the French Royalty’s luggage as they traveled. This individual was also tasked with serving their meals and tasting their food and wine before they ate to ensure they weren’t being poisoned. This particularly became necessary around the time of the French Revolution when the aristocracy was under attack.

The sommelier position evolved once again as restaurants began to open in 1700, and they were hired to share their expertise in wine with restaurant patrons. Over time the employment of sommeliers has become more common, and the role has expanded considerably. Despite that, there are very few true expert sommeliers in the world. In fact, as of 2020, there are only 269 individuals in the entire world who have passed the final Master Sommelier certification exam – yes, there’s an exam.

Becoming a Sommelier

While it’s easy for anyone to claim to be an expert, to become a true sommelier requires formal education, experience, a considerable training period, and of course, passing several exams. The basic sommelier education can take approximately six months to complete and cost less than five grand; however, to become a master sommelier requires advanced certification and training with years of experience, practice, and study. The process can be quite costly, as well.

Sommelier associations exist around the world which offer classes and training, but these can vary significantly in quality and level of service standards taught. The most prestigious training programs can be found in Italy, France, and Britain. 

The amount of dedication and commitment it takes to become a master sommelier is not without its rewards, though. Master sommeliers rake in anywhere from $80 to $160k a year, and on top of that, they get to experience the world’s most outstanding wines. It isn’t necessarily a job for everyone, but for those who have a passion for wine, it can be a challenge worth pursuing.