A Fine Time for a Culinary Career in Wine

"Across the country, restaurants are practically begging for qualified sommeliers, wine stewards, and wine educators," reported The New York Times recently. The resident wine expert is the new golden child of the restaurant industry. To take advantage of this hot culinary career opportunity, find a culinary institute with a sommelier program.

Sommelier Scarcity

Sommeliers are "scarce, and they are increasingly important to the success of ambitious restaurants," reports the Times. As the wine industry grows and the average diner becomes more savvy, it's no longer enough to offer the house red.

That's where the sommelier comes in. To make sure the customer makes the most of the restaurant's wine cellar, the sommelier performs various hospitality roles:

  • The Wine Emcee. Providing advice on wine pairings is the sommelier's most visible role. Shayn Bjornholm of Seattle's Canlis Restaurant estimates that he devotes about 35% of his culinary career to restaurant hospitality, interacting with customers and ensuring they take full advantage of the restaurant's 15,000-bottle inventory.
  • Master of the Wine Cellar. Stocking the cellar is another major part of the sommelier's culinary career. Bjornholm consults regularly with the chef and decides what to buy based on seasonal changes to the menu.
  • Wine Events Planning. Restaurant hospitality events are another main responsibility. Bjornholm hosts wine-tasting dinners to pass on his expertise and gain exposure for the restaurant.

Cultivating a Culinary Career in Wine

Is a great sommelier made or born? Innate sensitivity or not, a wine expert needs to cultivate a subtle palate through culinary institute training; a sommelier without credentials is unlikely to land a professional career. The discriminating Court of Master Sommeliers sets stringent standards for certification.

Sommelier training at a culinary institute will include courses in grape varieties and characteristics, wine production, sensory evaluation, food and wine pairings, and service techniques.

Best of all, a culinary institute can teach you to appreciate the pleasure of a fine vintage. As one sommelier graduate notes, "The course taught me to experience sensory delights that I never had before. That's what wine does for me."