What It’s Really Like To Work As A Sommelier

What It’s Really Like To Work As A Sommelier


Are you a lover of wine? If you enjoy sitting back and sipping glasses of wine regularly, you may have considered a career as a wine taster – or your friend may have joked that you should!

The career of a sommelier is exciting and evolutionary and no two days are ever the same.

We spoke with Michael Schafer - a professional in the field whose tagline is: ”I taste bad wine so you don’t have to”® and title is The Wine Counselor®.

He spoke with us about what it’s really like to taste wine every day- the good, bad and the great.

If you enjoy cocktail recipes and experiencing new alcohol tastes, then your future may involve being a taste expert. Get researching new flavours and exploring ways to describe its sensations in your mouth.

Hi Michael. So you’re a ‘wine expert’… can you describe what that entails?

It’s my pleasure, Amy. I’m a sommelier and a certified specialist of wine (CSW). Being a wine expert takes many hours, if not years of study and tasting, and studying and tasting!

Seriously, being a wine expert is not nearly as glamorous as many people think. I’m a wine judge and tasting $7-$10 wines at 9am is a bit challenging!

You have to know what a particular wine, say, a barolo, is supposed to taste like and by taste that includes focusing on the way the wine smells.

We derive the majority of our pleasure from the way the wine smells even more than from the way it tastes. A sommelier needs to be able to quickly read their guests and assess what wine will give them the most enjoyment.

As an educator, it’s my job to de-mystify the topic of wine. Many folks say “I really like wine, but I’m not a connoisseur.” This is frustrating to me because there are few, if any topics that people use the word connoisseur to describe someone who enjoys that product or activity.  After all wine is really only fermented grape juice!

What It's Really Like To Work As A Sommelier

You also train and teach about spirits. What do your seminars consist of?

I teach at the Culinary Institute of Michigan at Baker College as an adjunct professor. I also train hospitality employees about spirits. I’m currently teaching consumers about spirits at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial and the Birmingham Community House.

My consumer seminars are fun and educational; I call them ‘edutainment’. We enjoy a selection of six varieties of a particular spirit – a Scotch or tequila – and I speak about these topics while using a humorous PowerPoint presentation to encourage my students to laugh and learn.

What inspired your love of wine?

My love of wine was inspired by my love of food!

As an undergraduate student at the University of California Santa Barbara, California, I quickly discovered wine could make food taste better and vice versa.

Wine is the most interesting beverage in the world. Every vintage is different. The winemaker has the capability to work their magic on the juice and create a delicious drink that enhances our existence.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of working in the wine field?

Being a sommelier is vastly different than becoming a winemaker!

First of all, get a job in the business and begin studying. Taste as much as possible – whatever you can, and take copious notes. Concentrate on creating a memory bank of aromas and flavors.

Use common sense. Be hospitable. The hospitality business is all about service and people. In order to succeed one has to have a genuine desire to serve others.

Your job looks so much fun. Is it all fun and games or are there some tough times?

Well, it’s not all fun and games. As I mentioned, tasting value priced wines first thing in the morning is a bit of a challenge! Service hours can be grueling and guests can be challenging.

All in all, it’s a blast!

What It's Really Like To Work As A Sommelier

For someone who doesn’t know much about wine, what would you suggest to look for on wine labels for a flavour they’ll enjoy?

The easiest way to begin is by selecting wines with the grape name on the label. Then, decide if you prefer wines from the Old World or the New World. (The Old World is Europe and the New World is the rest of the planet). It’s okay to like wines from both!

Read the back labels. Frequently, a lot of information is contained on the back label of a bottle of wine. Use your smartphone too! There are numerous applications that are there to help you make an informed decision.

What procedures do you take to make sure a wine is good enough to be passed on to customers?

Naturally, the first thing is to taste it! I confirm that the wine is what it should be. What I mean by this is that the grape varietal or the style of the wine accurately reflects what the standard for that wine is supposed to be.

Price is always a consideration and evaluating a $10 bottle of wine is much different than evaluating a $100 bottle of wine. Everyone wants to spend $20 and drink wine that tastes like it costs $50!

The trick is to find wines that over-deliver for their price.

On a daily basis, what does your job consist of?

Now that’s a tough question! One of the reasons I enjoy what I do so much is because there is such a variety of things that I do.

Some days it’s writing, some days public speaking, other times private tastings, teaching culinary students, or conducting seminars for consumers.

It’s wide-ranging and fun!

And it sure does sound like it.

Michael hasn’t always been a sommelier and wine specialist, but he’s worked hard to get to where he is, and continues to inspire others who also have an interest in the industry.

If you’re considering a similar career, then don’t hesitate and wait for someone to show you what to do. Take Michael’s advice and pick up a bottle of wine and get tasting.

Don’t forget to swirl to draw oxygen into the drink and enhances its taste! Drink responsibly in the process.