Few years ago I decided to turn my passion for wines into my means of earning. The most charming designation then was that of a sommelier. But I was in Australia and things were easier. Returning to home turf, India, where drinking is still not an easily-acceptable affair, it was to be a challenge. But with changing times we Indians have also opened ourselves to experiencing the finer things in life in indulging in them as a regular practice. This has surely helped the profession poising itself as a glamorous profile. But it isn’t the easiest to be a sommelier and has its shares of work too.
A sommelier, French term for a wine waiter, has always been an important designation at any high-end restaurant or hotel. A sommelier is the brand ambassador for wines in its establishment. It not only requires in-depth knowledge of every minute aspect related to the beverage, and its practical application, but also requires charm, flair, and interpersonal skills. An aspirant must be fluent in spoken skills as the work involves conversing with guests and clients on a regular basis. It requires humility and confidence as a sommelier in various hotels and restaurants and works under challenging environment. An open-minded approach and a considerable respect for the elixir us a must. What is also a sommelier’s responsibility is to be an educator to its staff and its clients. And to simplify a complex subject of wines to them, a sommelier must be able to relate to its clients and explain them in their own language. Thus we sommeliers need to have an overall understanding to deconstruct the mysticism behind wines and create links during conversations.
A sommelier shall not only have the knowledge about opening a bottle, its service, and wines’ storage, but also be able to distinguish Bordeaux from a Burgundy wine in a tasting. For this, the palate must be highly trained for which years of tasting experience is the basis. One shall understand the petite differences and nuances of winemaking across the globe and be able to define them with a couple of sips of a wine. Further to this, wine-list management, procuring the right stocks, checking and maintaining the correct vintages, conditioned storage, apt stock rotation, inventory management, and meticulous beverage control remain his concern too. A regular upkeep with emerging trends, brands, and seasonality is a requisite. They shall also be fluent with various cuisines and culinary knowledge and be in tune with fashions en vogue. It’s an interesting game of senses and passion for wines is the key element required to survive and thrive.
The process of becoming a sommelier is simple but the path is necessarily not. There are various institutes, in India and abroad, that offer these courses and certifications. Most of the better ones are established in the UK, America, France, Italy, and Australia. India now has its own wine school christened as Institute of Wine + Beverage Studies (IWBS), in India. A course may run from a week to up to 2-3 years. Regular extensive study is inevitable and comes second to none. Emphasis must be laid here that practical experience is much dearer in this profession than mere qualifications. As an avid taster/critic the chances of travelling and featuring at international wine shows grows manifolds.
This French concept was accepted in the hospitality industry the world-over but reached India only a few years ago. And it was accepted here with ease. Now, with the local wine market developing at a rapid pace, trained wine professional is the cry for every prestigious organisation. And the dearth of wine professionals in such a market makes it a furthermore attracting career option. A new Indian winehouse is introduced every quarter and with foreign companies entering the domestic scene the demand is set to be on a roll for long. If not a sommelier, a wine professional can also be a wine consultant, wine writer, wine critic/judge, or a wine educator. They can work as an independent entity, hotel professional, with a winemaking house, wine suppliers, or even with embassies.
As the profession is still developing in the Indian scenario the starting pay ranges from Rs. 15,000 to 25,000. An individual consultant working with many establishments can pocket an easy 60,000-75,000 a month.