So... How do you become a Sommelier?

by Paul Huet on December 20, 2023

Whether I teach a class or run an event, as sure as death and taxes I will face this question: so…. How do you become a sommelier?

The apparent mystery surrounding the occupation never fails to generate curiosity, but aside from that, I find an increasing number of pragmatic enthusiasts secretly wanting to know how they could turn a simple interest into their new profession.

There is a pathway of course, but often not the one that we imagine, caused by misconceptions surrounding the role. This blog post will try to untangle myths and realities, and hopefully inspire some to pursue a career in the industry. 

Sommeliers' mystery is all smoke!


The genuine reason for the appeal for the profession

I mean, who wouldn’t seriously want to be a sommelier…you get to work with such a fascinating product: Wine! Created by nature and delivered by human hand.

It springs from earth, forged by all the forces and influences surrounding the grapes in the vineyard (called terroir) and shaped human culture and traditions. It stands as a loyal companion of food at the dining table and offers every step of type and quality from the humblest kind up to the highest expression of delicacy.

Grapes, regions, winemakers, are just a handful of the thousands of parameters playing a part in the quality and style of the final product, creating infinite combinations which, like a deck of cards are reshuffled every year by natural vintage variation.
Very few products offer so much variety.

There is a perfect fit for every dish, meal, preference, and occasion justifying by itself the need for a restaurant to hire someone solely recommend and serve the perfect selected bottle for the meal.

Nerdy types will enjoy the theory part of the job by going down the rabbit hole of infinite knowledge available on the subject. The more you investigate an aspect of it, the more you realise there is to know, it’s like getting sucked into a giant vortex.

On a more practical aspect, the trade offers travelling opportunities aplenty: where there is a decent restaurant, there is a need for a sommelier. The industry is incredibly dynamic, adapting to trends and food consuming habits. Jobs offers are never scarce, guaranteeing not only employment security but also alternative opportunities in various places.

So far and on paper, we are getting close to the dream job, so why don’t we have as many sommeliers as we have influencers? Well, there might be some misunderstanding on how you become one.

When by adventure I reveal that I am a sommelier, I often get the “oh!” accompanied by the fancy head movement or the squinting eyes of incomprehension (and once I got asked if I was a specialist of Somalia). Safe to say there is something mysterious about that person at the other end of the bottle of wine.

Is the collective unconscious picturing us as a group of people paid to sniff wine around for a living? Probably. Do we really know every wine ever produced in the world? Surely not. Can we really guess any wine just by smelling it? No I can’t…

What does the job actually entail?

A sommelier is responsible for the service of beverage in a restaurant. No more, no less.

Observation 1: Above all, it is a hospitality worker, roaming the floor of a restaurant during services, -serving wine, we will get to that- also helping with food service, hosting, clearing tables and getting the occasional earful by the head chef, just like any front of house. Fair.

Second observation, we are talking beverages and not solely wine. Table 10 still needs its water topped up; off you go buddy.

Depending on how big the venue and its beverage selection is, the wine team could range from a one-man band to an entire hierarchically structured crew. Responsibilities vary according to your position on the ladder. In Europe, one starts its career as a “commis-sommelier”: the bottom feeder of the chain who may only open, serve and top up wines. Beware if you dare taking a wine order.

Practically, tasks range from table service to designing a tailor-made wine program around a venue’s food offering through to recruiting team members and achieving financial targets, the latter befalling on the Head sommelier’s shoulder.

However, at any step of the ranks, the common denominator of your role is this: during service, in your “Section” (a certain area and number of tables), everyone should have a drink of some description. Plus, the sight of an empty glass should cause you an immediate allergic reaction. Another glass? Should we switch to red wine? A cleansing ale? Or a sparkling water? Offering the next beverage is not just giving service but also looking after the top line of the business’ revenue. That covers the various responsibilities.

The hidden part of the job: admin


What are the skills needed to be a sommelier?

Most are shared with any other front of house staff:

Being hospitable and generous has got to be the number one quality here. You are dealing with people and their needs all day. A good attitude and warm demeanor are part of the uniform. You might think that rushing to get Ms. Y’s beverage or running around the venue to fetch Mr. Z’s favorite decanter sounds futile, but there is a nobility in filling, if not exceeding one’s desire and needs. Patience, empathy, generosity, diplomacy are the building blocks of civilisation.

On a more selfish note, it is nice to be nice! Watch someone saying, “thank you for the incredible service on this very special occasion of ours”. Simply heartwarming. You did not end poverty on earth, but creating an ephemeral bubble of happiness is meaningful.

Number two: fast legs! Attending multiple tables commands lots of back and forth with a sense of urgency. Your feet will hurt after the 10km+ you could clock at the end of a busy Saturday night shift.

And number three, at last: serving drinks -we are getting there- cannot be efficient without the knowledge of what is served in the venue: being able to answer questions on any beverage listed and pair those with food is the natural continuity of the task, meaning knowing your menu back to front is a given. Not just the name and price, every degree of depth of expertise you may hold about a wine can make a difference in the quality of your service. This is what sets sommeliers apart.

How do you train for it?

Firstly, no you don’t need an official accreditation per se to be a sommelier. We are not surgeons risking critical organ failure with a bad wine recommendation; therefore, no mandatory university degree to be achieved before stepping on a restaurant floor. Some have learnt plenty by other means like self-study or mere experience. Fine, but going through a course will undoubtedly accelerate the process.

Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and Court of Master Sommelier (CMS) are two of the main avenues.

The first one, WSET was created in the UK in 1969. Its courses are available globally and universally recognised in the industry for their reliable and relevant contents. It offers four levels of tuition: Level 1 (one day), Level 2 (3 days), Level 3 (6 days) and a Diploma (Level 4) over two semesters. It teaches about wine in general, making it equally valuable for wine professionals and enthusiasts alike. To see our WSET courses, follow this link.

Pros: Widely available, for enthusiasts & professionals, broad scope of knowledge.
Cons: Missing the service part, doesn’t sharpen workers as high than CMS.

The second, CMS was also created in the UK, in 1977. The Court focuses on service (hence the sommelier part in its name), rather than wine in general.

It offers four levels: Introductory certificate, Certified sommelier, Advanced sommelier and Master Sommelier. Another point of difference with WSET is view on pedagogy. CMS is an agency that fosters and promotes skills and knowledge by recognising a certain level by sanction of exams, meaning the learning part is largely left in the hands of students. CMS certifies your level but does not really get you there.

The expectation is to know facts with the capacity of accessing them on the spot, as if you were prompted by a guest at the table about some detail on a wine. Service centered knowledge and skills: this is CMS strong suit. A practical service exam is also on the card to achieve any of the four levels.

Pros: Shapes very sharp floor professionals, networking possibilities within the Court.
Cons: Dates and spots for exams can be scarce, lack of tuition for some levels, knowledge is expected to be known rather than understood or processed.

No Matrix-style sommelier training available yet

How do you get started on a floor?

WSET L2 will be a good start; it is tackled in 17 hours, often over the course of three consecutive weeks and will set you back about $1,1000. CMS intro is valuable too, but you might struggle to practice for the service exam without… service experience first.

Then you will have to convince someone to hire you without experience. Hard, but not impossible.

Hospitality as an industry always needs bodies, and if you have two arms, two legs, energy and willingness, you’re fit for it. Be open and honest about your lack of experience. You may have to start on the floor as a waiter or runner to learn the ropes (a runner takes the food from the kitchen to the table).

The best is to contact the head sommelier or the venue manager at a place you think might fit. Being in tune with the vibe and ethos of a venue is paramount. Unlucky in your targeted venue? Do not despair, the important bit is to get your foot in the door somewhere. After a bit of experience, it is easier to move around.

Once you are comfortable with the dynamics and rhythm of the place then adding the wine part of the job will come naturally. You will get better at it as you taste more wines, and your palate will sharpen. I strongly recommend writing notes of every wine you try.
Your beverage recommendations will improve and become increasingly comfortable at offering wider options. Watch out for the B.S... It is very tempting to make something up when caught off guard in a grey area of your knowledge. I have done it, and have bitterly regretted it.

Once you reach relative comfort in your skills it is time to tackle higher qualifications (WSET L3, CMS Intro + certified).

With a couple of years of experience, you will be considered as a proper sommelier. Transferring to other venues will be easier, job offers might come in, promotion should be on the cards too. You will also get increasing amounts of opportunities to train, travel and taste. A substantial chunk of my travelling to wine regions was either paid for by my employer or work suppliers.

Should you pick the small independent operator of the hospitality juggernaut?

You prefer family feel, flexibility and small teams, pick the former. You might not be exposed to a lot of opportunities however.
Are you more into challenging environments, high potential career and ever-changing work landscape, choose the latter.



My advice to aspiring sommeliers, especially if you are currently in another industry is to go go go. Do not let the imaginary mountain of wine knowledge intimidate you. You don’t need much to start with and time will gradually work its wonders by exposing your palate to more wines.

I was convinced my palate would never be good enough for a job like sommelier, I am glad someone went out of his way to prove me wrong, back in London in 2007.

 Time to join the ranks!


If you are thinking of becoming a sommelier and need advice or more information, don’t hesitate to contact me through the form here.