A Sommelier is a wine expert and professional, who typically works in a fine dining establishment. A Sommelier has formal training to be able to specialize in all aspects of wine. Today, we're breaking down the different tiers of training individuals go through to gain this coveted title! First things first, pronunciation, sommelier is pronounced suh-mel-yay. Just in case, here’s a quick cheat video on pronunciation.
What Does a Sommelier do?
Sommeliers’ have a variety of responsibilities depending on their level. Specifically in the service industry, a Sommelier is responsible for developing a wine list, training staff on the different wines available, explaining to staff why the wines are on the menu as well as explaining price point rationale. In addition to interacting with the front of the house staff, they are responsible for working with the culinary team to develop recommendations for pairings and fully understanding the opportunities within the menu.
Levels of Sommelier
Just like higher education (e.g., masters, doctorate, phd) there are different tiers to becoming a Sommelier. The four key tiers are: Intro, Certified, Advanced, Master. These levels all have different degrees of knowledge needed and build off of one another. A test is taken at the end of each level and if a person passes, then they are considered to be certified at that level.
Level 1 - Intro
The Intro Level is typically a weekend long event. You don’t need to be in the industry to take the course, and it’s fairly simple to find weekend classes that the general public can participate in. The cost varies between $200-$500 and wine theory, wine tasting, label reading and service are commonly covered during the course. To become certified as an Introductory Sommelier, you will need to take the class, the corresponding test following that class, and then pass the test.
Level 2 - Certified
An individual can take Level 2 coursework to become a Certified Sommelier once they have completed and passed the Level 1 Intro class and test. The Level 2 Certified tier is more time and labor intensive. It’s typically industry professionals, wine enthusiasts, or folks who want to be in the wine industry that partake in this level.
It’s administered in two formats, over an 8-10 week period of time that is a part time, or over a 1-2 week full time intensive immersion course. Similar to the Intro Level, you have a tasting process, wine theory, and service component, all of which within this setting go much more in depth. For example, in the service component, you will master the perfect restaurant pour and open wine bottles in the most professional manner. As part of the tasting component, you analyze up to 80 different wines, which is super fun but also very challenging!
Level 3 - Advanced
This level is really for the professionals pursing a career in the industry. To become an Advanced Sommelier, the candidate must attend a three-day Advanced Sommelier course. Upon completion, they sit for a three-day Advanced Sommelier assessment. It’s an extremely rigorous testing process at this level with only about a 25% pass rate. In our opinion, the Advanced Sommelier title is the underrated title. There’s a lot of buzz around Master Sommeliers but Advanced Sommeliers also endure rigorous testing and typically fly under the radar compared to Master Somms.
Level 4 - Master
The top of the pyramid, the cream of the crop, a Master Sommelier is a wine expert and professional who has passed the fourth and final level of the sommelier certification. Less than 300 people globally wear this title. The course and exam span over a 3-year period. The final testing consists of a written theory section, verbal blind tasting section, and an actual practice wine service section. Thinking about the verbal blind tasting section is beyond impressive. A Master Sommelier is able to pinpoint the region, varietal, and actual year in which the vintage was released. Extremely impressive!!
This is perhaps the level you are most familiar with thanks to documentaries like Somm and Somm Into the Bottle. If you gain this certification you are considered to be THE top professional in the industry. These experts can spend around 10,000 hours preparing for this certification. Many Master Sommeliers will go on to be judges of international wine competitions.
Reasons to Become a Sommelier
Dana Spaulding, Founder + CEO, and Amanda Gunville, CMO + COO, on our team are both Level 2 - Certified Sommeliers. The reasons people choose to become Sommeliers can be both personal and professional.
Amanda went through the certification after making a deal with her dad, who decided the first thing he would do when he retired from being a physician would be to go through Level 2. Both have always been die hard wine lovers so this was a unique and challenging father daughter bonding experience!
Dana went through Level 2 solo. When she came up with the business idea for Wander + Ivy she spent 6-9 months working on her business plan prior to quitting her day job. As soon as that was complete, she quit her full time role and enrolled in Level 2 Sommelier Certification. For her, since she was new to the industry, having that foundational knowledge was super important. It was a bit intimidating not being someone who was actively working in the industry, but it helped her gain immense knowledge and perspective to build Wander + Ivy into what it is today!
We hope this provided you with education and inspiration on Sommelier training. It’s a unique experience that can be something great to add to your future bucket (or career) list! As mentioned, we recommend checking out the SOMM Films movies to watch on Sommelier training and wine experiences in general. Additionally as summer beach reading season approaches, Cork Dork is a great read about an individual's journey through Sommelier certification! Cheers!
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