Wine Sommelier Certifications and Pay

In the U.S., some of the most widely recognized sommelier certification programs are offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Sommelier Society of America and the American Sommelier Association. Do not confuse these programs with the qualification known as the Masters of Wine. The Masters of Wine is a more academic course of study for veteran wine business professionals in fields such as viticulture, winemaking or wine education.

How does one get a sommelier education? Introductory courses can be completed in as little as two days. Learning the skills needed to taste wines blind is the foundation. This type of tasting is essential to refining a sommelier’s ability to develop what is known as taste memory. Building the skill of remembering hundreds of tastes and smells in wine is the basis of how sommeliers match food and wine with diner’s desires and wallets. Every major wine region of the world must be explored. Spirits, beer and tobacco may also be aspects of introductory courses. Proper service techniques are covered. Completing an entry level course is a good first step, but it is only the beginning.

Earning a certification typically requires a combination of education and course work, examinations and industry experience. Moving on to more advanced levels can take many years of hard work.

The Master Sommelier designation is perhaps the best known credential for sommeliers. It is quite difficult to reach this level of proficiency. Fewer than 200 people throughout the world have earned the title.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics does not track salary data for sommeliers. Since the title of sommelier can apply to any restaurant employee who has wine serving or buying duties, accurate compensation data is limited. Those who have achieved the Master Sommelier certification can earn up to $160,000 or more, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers. Entry level sommeliers would likely be compensated in the same range as wait staff in fine-dining restaurants. Of course, one of the perks of the job is sampling and evaluating fine wines and great food.

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