SOMMELIERS: ‘WE FEEL BETTER THAN EVER’

In his Imbibe article “Endangered Species: Sommeliers in Crisis,” Chris Losh argues that the current state of the industry is failing to match the increasing demand with quality sommeliers. He questions whether today’s sommeliers spend sufficient time building a strong foundation.

13Here at the UK Sommelier Association we have a different perspective.

What Mr. Losh sees as a crisis we see as an opportunity. Every change calls for growth, and growth leads to evolution. Therefore, we are relentless in finding the best ways to provide our students, the world’s future sommeliers, with a solid foundation.

But what is a solid foundation for a sommelier? What makes a sommelier such a unique and complete professional figure?

Sommelier is not a job, it is a lifestyle.

It is not enough to have a deep knowledge about oenology, grape varieties, style of wines and technical stuff to be called Sommelier.

Sommeliers are life connoisseurs who love to SHARE their knowledge and deep passion.

They love to communicate the emotions that wines give, transforming them into words. They are poets and storytellers who feel the need to express their love for wine, passing on a message that wine is not just an alcoholic beverage, but also a culture, hard work, knowledge, tradition and innovation.

They not only do that in the workplace, but also at home, with friends, with relatives and family, on holidays and on their days off. A true sommelier is never off duty because wine is his/her life.

That deep admiration and respect for a product that contains not just human labour but talent, passion and technical skills, fascinates sommeliers so much that they breathe wine culture in any and every single moment of their life, spending their days off at wine tastings, and planning holidays and trips with the aim of discovering wine areas and visiting producers, rather than to escape and relax.

Lucky enough to receive invitations to attend the best and most prestigious wine events and tasting not just in London but all over the world, sommeliers can live their dream life and increase their knowledge and ambition at the same time.

Technical knowledge is a must-have but just a small part of the skills that sommeliers need to master.

They must be psychologists: able to understand the customer, interpreting their body language and needs.

They must be entertainers: able to perform manual skills with elegance and charm in front of an audience.

They must be managers: able to organize their cellar, deal with prices, mark-ups and suppliers and create the highest revenues for the business, while simultaneously training their staff.

They must not only be responsible for a large part of the business, but also be the ‘magician’ that can enhance the sensory experience of each customer, giving them the best evening of their life.

What other job can count on the same dedication?

But how can a sommelier learn all these skills?

At the UK Sommelier Association, we’ve been training sommeliers for a very long time. What we do in our courses is to focus on four crucial elements: in-depth technical knowledge of viticulture and oenology, wine tasting technique, wine-food pairing technique and service technique.

We provide lectures by master sommeliers and other highly knowledgeable and respected wine experts. Our aim is to give them a solid technical knowledge while at the same time helping them nurture and effectively share their passion.

We also teach an elaborate wine tasting technique with an accent on practical exercises aimed at helping the students recognise aromas and evaluate sensations.

However, what makes us truly stand out is our elaborate teaching approach to wine pairings with food. It involves analysing sensations of different families of food and then identify wines with complimentary notes such that the end result is a harmony of flavours.

Over the past ten years we have sent our graduates to The Savoy, The Ritz, Bulgari, Aqua Shard, Shangri La, The Dorchester, Gordon Ramsey, Pollen Street Social, Social Eating House, China Tang, Hakkasan, Locanda Locatelli, Tamarind and Roka, Oblix, Sushi Samba, just to name a few. What we hear back is that our graduates love the rewards and growth in their careers, while their customers and restaurant managers love our graduates.

Numbers speak louder than words. In every course we organise, there is an increase in the number of students attending. The interest in this career is growing and growing, as much as the demand of sommelier from hospitality. We receive requests daily from the best restaurants in both London and abroad.

But where there is a huge demand, the increase in applicant numbers inevitably causes a decrease in the quality of those applicants. This happens in every arena.

But this does not mean that there are no well-trained sommeliers out there. It simply means that there is an increased need for restaurants to invest, training all wine waiters with a sommelier course, to be able to call them Professional Sommeliers.

Today more than ever we believe that being a sommelier is the best career in the world. And therefore, we believe in what we do and we do it with passion and dedication.

To Mr. Losh and his article we say: let’s accept the challenge to grow through the change rather than shy away from the pain and bury our heads in the past.

Federica Zanghirella – UK Sommelier Association Vice President, Course Director

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