How to become a wine sommelier
Author: Derek Walklate
Wine education is one of the main contributors to the successful growth of the English wine industry. The ‘go to’ place for students interested in a career within the wine industry is Plumpton College of Agriculture in Sussex. The original 400-acre College farm was bought back in 1919, and in recent years has specialised in wine education even installing a state of the art commercial winery.
WSET was founded as charitable trust in 1969 to serve the growing educational needs of the UK wine and spirits industry which, at the time, primarily spanned import, distribution and retail. Funding was provided by The Vintners’ Company and WSET took over the education initiatives started by the Wine and Spirit Association of Great Britain.
WSET qualifications are globally recognised as the international standard in wine and spirit knowledge. They are designed for those who are just starting out in their careers, as well as established professionals, and the many enthusiasts who have a passion for wines and spirits.
WSET Level 1: A beginner level introduction to wine suitable for those starting a wine career or pursuing an interest in wine.
WSET Level 2: Award in Wines is a beginner- to intermediate-level qualification exploring wines, suitable for industry professionals and wine enthusiasts. This qualification is intended for beginners wishing to learn about a wide range of wines or those seeking to build on the introductory knowledge gained with the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines. The course covers the principal and regionally important grape varieties of the world and the regions in which they are grown, and the styles of wine they produce.
WSET Level 3: This is an advanced level qualification for individuals seeking to delve deeper into the world of wines, this qualification provides a detailed understanding of grape growing and wine making. Upon completion you’d be able to assess wines accurately and have a good understanding of wine style and quality.
WSET Level 4 (Diploma): This is an expert level qualification building on the knowledge and skills gained from the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines, the Diploma deepens the understanding of how and why wine production and business factors influence the style, quality, and price of wines. The 2-years long course also includes many tastings thus developing wine tasting skills to an expert level.
Our General Manager, Natalia Pezzone completed her WSET Diploma in 2020 and scored the highest mark in the whole of the UK which is quite a feat! Her wine knowledge is staggering!
If you want to improve your understanding and appreciation of wine we’d recommend starting with WSET 1. We have partnered with the Thames Valley Wine School to deliver WSET Courses in-house at Stanlake Park.
The ultimate undertaking would be to attain the title of Master of Wine or the Master Sommelier – but what kind of journey is the wine sommelier?
Wine Sommelier: the many paths available
There are several routes you can take. These include building up your knowledge of wines and wine service by working in a reputable wine bar or restaurant, learning on the job as it were.
Of course, there are formal qualifications which would really give you a great kick-start, such as:
- Professional certificate by the Worldwide Sommelier Association (WSA)
- The Certified Sommelier Course: A Diploma that is internationally recognised which will allow you to work all around the world
- Diploma in Wine, Gastronomy and Management
- Degree in Hospitality and Management
There is even a Master Sommelier course which you can undertake after a number of years of experience. It’s a pretty elite club, with only around 270 world-wide.
However, it seems that extensive wine and vineyard knowledge, managing a cellar and stock control, an understanding of how to correctly serve the wine at the right temperature, who to serve first at the table (always the ladies first …. Sorry chaps), etc is just the tip of the iceberg.
To be a good wine sommelier, an individual must have exceptional interpersonal skills and be able to treat each guest as though they are a personal guest in their home. They must be approachable, and have really good listening skills, too.
But being a sommelier is not always that awesome…
The rewards of the role can be good for someone who offers an exceptional customer experience, but it’s not a job for everyone. The hours can be ridiculously long, with a great amount of time spent on your feet! (Wearing lovely cushioned trainers would not fit the strictly smart dress code, sadly).
Customers can be difficult, so those with a thin skin may find it hard ….. it would be tempting but such a shame to empty a decent English Sparkling Wine into someone’s lap, despite the provocation!
But if that hasn’t put you off, I would certainly recommend taking a look at the films such as Somm 3, which really gives you a great flavour of what it is all about …. It’s also quite amusing as it pitches some “legends” in the world of wine against some new boys on the block with a surprising outcome. Hope that hasn’t spoiled the story line for you.