The French term ‘sommelier’ refers to a wine steward. However, a sommelier is much more than that. She/he is a highly trained and knowledgeable wine professional who specialises in all aspects of wine service, from advising diners on what wines would go best with certain foods to the nitty gritty of procurement, managing inventory flow, creating wine lists for F&B establishments, mentoring sommeliers, etc. This requires a blend of hospitality skills and in-depth knowledge of wines — grape varieties, regions, vintages, vineyards, how to taste wine, etc. Depending on personal skills, sommeliers can join the wine trade, work in wine production, in the import and export of wine, consulting and advising, wine education, training, wine writing etc.
What do they do?
Ten years ago, when Magandeep Singh decided to devote himself to his passion for wines, few in India were aware of the term ‘sommelier’. Today, his decision to go against the grain stands vindicated — the wine industry in India has grown by leaps and bounds since, making someone with his expertise invaluable. Apart from being a celebrated wine consultant and educator, he is also a food and wine writer.
Gagan Sharma, sommelier and wine educator, agrees: “With globalisation, people are well-travelled and well-informed. An Indian meal sharing the table with an international wine is no more a strange affair. Most wine drinkers have engaged with a sommelier at restaurants abroad and wish to experience the same in India too.” Incidentally, Sharma works with Singh and has been handling key accounts like multi-award winning Olive Restaurants, Azurro Restaurants, Hotel Le Meridien, Galaxy Hotel, Hotel Oberoi, Hotel Hilton, Radisson Hotel, Hotel Manor, Hotel Samrat, and the likes. Presently, he’s single-handedly handling the wine sector for retail chain stores, Spencers Hyper, in Delhi NCR and Kolkata. Singh’s interest in wines developed as a student at the Institute of Hospitality Management (IHM), Mumbai. “At that time, people barely knew what IHM was, so to be a sommelier was too far-fetched. But my parents were supportive.” After a master’s degree in hospitality management at Institut Vatel, France, Singh decided to take the plunge. So, he enrolled for a post-graduate diploma course in wine tasting at the prestigious L’Université du Vin and travelled all over France, visiting wine cellars, wine boutiques and vineyards. He began his career at the bottom of the ladder, at a small wine shop in southern Rhone. Upon his return to India, he started working with a wine company and handled their wine training, appreciation and list-building activities. In 2001, he finally branched out on his own as a wine consultant (he prefers the term ‘wine solutions provider’). Since then, he has been a wine consultant with several hotels. The industry has begun to recognise the need for qualified wine stewards and Sharma has encouraging words for budding Indian sommeliers. “The Indian hospitality (industry) has a paucity of sommeliers. With new wineries opening up fast and new hotels placing their produce rapidly, the demand for a qualified, well-equipped sommelier is almost inevitable. And the demand for long will only go one-way, upwards.” But he cautions: “An aspirant must consider the costs involved in trainings, the effort on a daily basis, the humility of working as a server at various outlets, and yet being paid only a fraction of what he may have earned in other industries. Passion is the only way to stay on the path, then.” And the hospitality industry is not the only avenue for qualified sommeliers. “Apart from hotels, sommeliers are constantly being hired by big wine-import companies and marketing offices of wine houses. They require them to judge the wines for what’s inside the bottle than the financials involved behind them. Also, another interesting avenue is to be a consultant to the smaller restaurants, wineries, embassies, and other wine-dealing entities,” says Sharma. With inputs from Pankaj Mullick
“A good hotel management degree focusing on wine with on-the-job training or a certified course from a well respected organisation are adequate as long as you have a strong interest in the subject and the desire to learn,” says Reva K Singh . However, she adds, a certified sommelier qualification from a reputed institute is an added asset . A sommelier certification offers practical training in wine service and tasting as well as knowledge about wine regions, winemaking and viticultural practices, etc
How do I get there?
A degree from a reputed hotel management institute followed by on-the-job training OR A sommelier certificate course from an accredited, internationally-recognised institution. The levels start from Beginner’s to Intermediate and Advanced. The highest certification is that of Master Sommelier, offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, UK.