Craig Allen co-founder of The Change Group explains why taking a job as a sommelier would allow you to exercise creativity, flair and autonomy all in one swig. With the drinks’ industry flourishing, now has never been a better time to go with the flow and get clued up and wine.
As a hospitality recruitment agency, The Change Group is often asked to source sommeliers to work for high-end hotels and Michelin and Rosette restaurants in London. In recent years we have seen a steady demand for sommelier candidates particularly due to the growth in popularity of fine dining and food pairing offerings.
For those considering a career in hospitality, we would highly recommend people contemplate a career as a sommelier as it offers many benefits including creativity, autonomy, world travel, exposure to top chefs and the foodie scene, healthy remuneration packages and less demanding working hours than say a chef.
So how does one get into a career as a sommelier?
1. Get involved in vintage
There is no better way to learn about wine than by getting involved in vintage, or as its most commonly known, harvest season. This is your chance to get up close and personal with every aspect of the wine making process from picking, sorting and pressing the grapes to actually seeing first-hand how the wine is made and bottled. You will also have the opportunity to spend time with the wine producers and learn from them.
2. Become accredited
If you decide after attending various vintage seasons that a career as a sommelier is for you, why not look at studying for a more formal qualification. When looking for a sommelier we always pay special attention to their qualifications as there are a number of reputable sommelier courses that make candidates stand out from the rest.
• Union de la Sommellerie Française
• Wine & Spirit Education Trust
• The Court of Master Sommeliers
• Cape Wine Academy
• International Sommelier Guild
• North American Sommelier Association
The most recognised course in the UK is the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) which offers qualifications ranging from beginners through to diplomas for experts.
3. Don’t waste time
While studying, you could always apply for a chef de rang position as many high-end hotels and restaurants offer wine training to their waiting staff. You may be able to work with the appointed sommelier and learn from them whilst on the job. It is this type of experience that can really set you apart from other sommelier candidates later down the line and all experience counts.
We also recommend that you attend tastings in your own time and explore other beverage trends as all this additional knowledge will really help you in the future, especially if you are required to set up your own beverage programmes once hired.
4. Make it official
Once you have attended vintages, completed your wine qualification and gained some valuable experience in hotels and restaurants, it is time to take the plunge and apply for your first solo sommelier job.
Paying the same as most entry level roles, you can expect to earn in the region of £18,000 to £25,000. However it’s important to note that you will not have racked up thousands of pounds in student loans debt and there will be some significant perks to the job.
The perks of being a sommelier
You will have your finger on the pulse of everything relating to beverages whether that be attending wine tastings locally or abroad, sourcing craft beers and ciders, exploring different spirits or commissioning your very own fortified vermouths to be produced.
The modern day sommelier job is very different to what people may expect. Sommeliers are given a huge amount of creative autonomy when producing beverage menus for hotels and restaurants and, in the same way that the food scene in the UK has flourished in recent years, there is a real sense that the drinks industry is following the trend.
Sommeliers working at high-end hotels and restaurants can expect to work alongside celebrity chefs and get involved in many elements of the dining experience including choosing appropriate glassware, costing as well as ordering all beverages, training staff and pairing beverages with gourmet dishes.
Once sommeliers have gained a few years’ experience, particularly in well-known hotels, they can expect for their remuneration to go up significantly. We have some sommelier candidates that can earn up to £60,000 per annum and are even offered shares in the businesses they work for.
One unique benefit of being a sommelier is that you possess a skillset that is not only very fashionable but it’s also quite rare. With the UK wine industry set to grow significantly in the coming years (according to statistics from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs [HMRC], the UK has experienced a 41% rise in new wine producers in 2015), it is likely that sommeliers with English wine experience will become an even more valuable commodity.
My final piece of advice to those considering a career as a sommelier, or perhaps even for those who already are sommeliers, is to try to use your skillset to gain additional experience all the time. You’d be surprised how many private companies would like to host their own wine tastings with a personal sommelier or how many publications and TV shows want sommeliers to share their knowledge through wine recommendations. It is this type of extra experience that will propel your career to new heights and expose you to opportunities that can also help increase your earning potential.