How do you become a sommelier?
You have a passion for wine, and you want to pursue a career as a sommelier. It’s time to begin your training and start working toward a sommelier certificate. Although sommeliers don’t always hold the same formal credentials, earning a certificate is a direct way to learn the trade and prove to employers that your "somm" skills are up to par.
The road to becoming a certified sommelier often starts with independent study and on-the-job learning; it continues with completing courses and passing an exam.
Start learning about wine
You’ll need a deep understanding of wines, their origins, and how they’re paired with food to be a sommelier. Begin your study by reading books and trying new wines. Attend wine tastings. In short, immerse yourself as much as you can in the wine world. The more you know about wine from first-hand experience, the less catch-up you’ll have to do in your sommelier coursework.
Try to get a job where you can work under a sommelier. This could be a position as a server or cook in a restaurant that has a good wine list or an impressive cellar. Part of the sommelier’s job is training servers and kitchen staff to cook with, pair and sell wine, to educate staff, and discuss wine with patrons, so you will benefit from your sommelier’s expertise. You’ll also get to see what a sommelier career looks like on a daily basis.
There are a few reasons to work with wine before pursuing certification. First, your certification coursework will be easier if you start with some background knowledge, and industry experience is a prerequisite for some certification programs. Also, many of your classmates will already have experience in the industry, and you’ll be on a more equal footing with them if you aren’t starting from scratch. And because earning a sommelier certificate can take several years and cost thousands of dollars, you want to be certain that you enjoy this career path before you make that commitment.
The next step is to enroll in a course of study leading to a sommelier exam and certification. Fees and length of study vary depending on the organization you choose to learn from.
- The Court of Master Sommeliers: Candidates complete four requirements to earn the title Master Sommelier. Before admission to the program, applicants are expected to have some experience in the hospitality industry. Candidates take the two-day Introductory Course and a multiple-choice exam; this step costs $595. They then take the Certified Sommelier exam, which also costs $595. This test covers wine identification and theory, and it also requires candidates to demonstrate the ability to serve wine in a restaurant-like environment. Those who successfully pass that step and who have at least five years’ experience in the industry can go on to the three-day Advanced Sommelier course and exam, which cost $1,195. This exam covers wine tasting, theory, and service in a restaurant setting. Finally, candidates take the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination, which costs $995. This is a very rigorous test; only 10 percent of candidates pass the theory portion.
- American Sommelier: Beginners are eligible to take the six-week Foundation course, which introduces concepts of winemaking and wine tasting. This step costs $850. From there, candidates progress to a 10-week grape mapping course, which includes short online quizzes and a 90-minute final exam. This course costs $1,500. The 12-week GEO mapping course covers wine production regions in more detail and costs $1,800. Next is the Viti Vini class, which costs $3,300. Candidates who pass the final exam earn the American Sommelier V & V certificate. American Sommelier also offers courses on blind tasting and sales.
- Sommelier Society of America: The Sommelier Certificate course combines lectures, hands-on experience, and customized tests. The course runs for 21 weeks and costs $2,195. The final exam lasts two hours and includes both a written test and a blind tasting test. Students who complete the course and earn a grade of at least 75 percent on the final exam receive the Sommelier Society of America Certification Diploma.