Today, as I sat in a ten hour lecture with four Master Sommeliers thru the Court of Master Sommeliers preparing for what seems like the hardest tests known to man of ANY subject, this question came up. And its answer…HUMILITY.
Humility, here’s what Dictionary.com has to say:
hu·mil·i·ty: the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.
Important, don’t ya think? While there are many folks that think they know a lot about wine, and I think I know quite a bit, you haven’t held a candle to the guts of wine until you’ve taken these lectures. Seriously. While today was a great review for my first two tests, I realize that I will be ‘bleeding’ the names of every single village, chateau, plot of wine, grape specie and style of wine known to man before I am threw.
While Humility is certainly important, and it most definitely is in a profession like mine when you are in front of zillions of people a day teaching them about a subject that can be very intimidating to some, there are many things that one should know about becoming a HUMBLE SOMMELIER. Plus, I’ve truly been wanting to answer this ‘WHAT IS A SOMMELIER?’ question on my website for a very long time. So, I suppose here’s my chance as it came up today in class.
A Sommelier is someone (now) that is CERTIFIED as a wine expert. A Sommelier is not only someone that knows the every inside and out of wine, but also of cocktails, liquors, cigars, sake and beer. Becoming a CERTIFIED SOMMELIER is not something that you can do online, like some of the now certified positions of the beer world, or even say that you are one just because you’ve spent X amount of years ‘in the industry’. It is a full process. And, it will make you NOT want to drink wine for fun, while in the process of becoming. Trust me.
When I went through the process and became CERTIFIED, I took some of THE greatest wine courses that I could – through the International Sommelier Guild. I took the full three level ordeal, which was almost a two years sitting in classroom, drinking eight hours a day, and passing three major tests. The percentage of passing is low and the rigorous activity of testing is crazy. My final was two days and a full 18 hours of…(something that ends in double LL). But, gave me an appreciation of wine that cannot replaced.
What I have brought to my career, however, is much more than just passing some tests. I have worked in all levels of restaurant service. From the beginnings as a restaurateur’s child bar backing, tending, cleaning grease traps to managing bars, banquet halls, and four and five star restaurants. In addition, I’ve put my time in from a winery perspective. Managing and operating on all levels of a winery’s floor, I have worked the vineyard, played in the lab, sorted, punched down and rolled a few barrels or two – not to mention managed all levels of hospitality including: tasting rooms, wine clubs, marketing and sales. And last, ah yes, the wonderful and most glamorous position in the wine industry - Distribution. While it’s a ‘humbling’ job, it is one that was probably some of the crucial experience that I’ve had in this industry. You grow a very thick skin, a snappy tongue and a ferocious attitude. It’s tough, fast, furious and an incredible experience.
With practically a life built around ‘what I wanted to be when I grew up’, my experience in this industry has really been a wonderful, life-changing book full of adventure. And now, as a full time educator, wine consultant, and dabbling in Eastern European wine branding with various filming and writing positions involving media – my life, I can say is (and I always say this) never boring! Thank goodness for a wonderful spouse, family and network of supportive friends that pardon my absence with my work around the clock. It’s always a whirlwind.
So I thought I’d share. It’s been on my ‘to do’ list for quite a while now to write this ‘What is a Sommelier?’ bit. I think it’s important that people know because there are so many folks out there that SELF PROCLAIM or speak on behalf of wine or even educate in personal settings, when they do not have the credentials to do so. I’m not saying that you need to be a Sommelier to ‘talk’ about wine, but I feel like I needed to say something on behalf of us who have worked our tails off to get to where we are. There are too many folks that talk disrespectfully about the world of wine, saying you shouldn’t drink this or that. Or even that think that they are above what’s being poured. Are you kidding? If it wasn’t for the Two Buck Chucks of the world or even White Zin, man…none of us would even had a job. Besides, what was the first wine you ever drank? Bet it wasn’t Chateau Petrus. So, as I sweat this Master Sommelier degree, I thought there probabaly wasn’t a more appropriate time to write about the FACTS.
But truly, all us real wine dorks out there want…is for you to drink what you like and drink more of it. That way we’ll ALL have jobs. I mean, that’s really what it’s all about. We’re just here to give you the tools to understand a wee bit more, know what to look for on a retail shelf and every once in a while (if you care), impress your friends with your ability to pick out the best darn bottle for under $15. That’s what this crazy world of wine is all about.
So pick up a glass + Cheers, from your favorite Certified Sommelier!