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Guide to a Sommelier Career

Being a Sommelier is more than just a profession — it is a calling for individuals passionate about wine and dedicated to improving their knowledge daily.

If you want to learn more about what a Sommelier does, you came to the right place.

We’ve created this guide to help aspiring individuals learn about what it means to be a Sommelier. Explore essential skills, career paths and more.

What Is a Sommelier?

A Sommelier is a restaurant industry professional who has undergone training in all aspects of wine service. They are otherwise called a Wine Steward.

Sommeliers are usually employed by upscale establishments, where they take care of the comprehensive wine service. This includes but is not limited to creating wines lists, food and drink pairings and managing wine inventory.

What Does a Sommelier Do?

Considering that a Sommelier supervises all wine services of an establishment, there are multiple responsibilities they take up in a restaurant.

One of their main duties in any establishment is curating wine lists for restaurants and choosing brands. From there, they also deliver wine to restaurant patrons on the floor and are expected to deliver exceptional customer service.

Sommeliers also educate other staff members on wine and pairings and collaborate with the Chef to create new pairing options.

While there are some universal Sommelier duties and responsibilities (like the ones above), specific tasks might vary from employer to employer.

To best understand what is expected of you in your Sommelier role, you should check with your potential employer during your Sommelier interview.

Top Skills and Qualities of Successful Sommeliers

Successful Sommeliers depend on multiple skills and qualities to optimally perform within their role.

image showing sommelier skills

Some of their essential skills include:

Wine knowledge

Sommeliers must understand all aspects of a wine. This includes regions, grape varieties and aging processes. Additionally, they must have a refined palate that lets them identify subtle nuances in wine taste.

Pairing expertise

Sommeliers must not only know wine, but also how a particular wine complements a specific food. For example, you would pair a medium-bodied red wine with a tomato-based pasta dish.

Customer service and communication

Sommeliers oversee delivering wine service to restaurant patrons. They must have excellent customer service and communication skills to adequately describe wine and make recommendations to guests.

Attention to detail

Sommeliers must have excellent attention to detail to keep track of wine lists and inventory and to effectively coordinate service with the kitchen. This skill is also important for ensuring proper pouring of wine.


Sommeliers must establish and maintain relationships with wine distributors, producers and other industry professionals. This allows them to receive exclusive offers and remain informed about new offerings, both of which would be beneficial to the establishment.

How To Become a Sommelier

The Sommelier position requires extensive wine knowledge and expertise, something you can only achieve through years of specialization or hands-on experience.

While not all employers require their Sommeliers to have formal education (a course with certification proving their Sommelier skills), having one that proves your expertise will help you stand out from the competition.

If you wish to establish yourself as a Sommelier, consider acquiring one of the certificates listed in the next section.

Education and Training for Sommeliers

The Court of Master Sommeliers offers four different levels of education, each designating a Sommelier’s level of expertise. They are:

Keep in mind that, currently, there are less than 300 Master Sommeliers in the world, due to the rigorous examination process that usually takes years of learning and multiple attempts.

Can You Become a Sommelier Without Formal Education?

The short answer: yes.

The role of a Sommelier includes a lot of duties that go beyond knowing wine, such as managing inventory, delivering exceptional customer service and making accurate recommendations to restaurant patrons.

A successful Sommelier manages to do all of the above, and hands-on experience will help most individuals acquire some – if not all – of the necessary skills. To start your career as a Sommelier even without formal education, we highly recommend working as a Server or as a Bartender.

This will give you valuable experience in restaurant operations, allowing you to interact with various patrons and learn more about the restaurant industry.

From there, you can ask the Sommelier at your establishment for training and begin learning about the craft. However, bear in mind that Sommeliers serious about their calling will try to eventually acquire a Sommelier certification to formally back up their experience.

Sommelier Salary and Earning Potential

On average, Sommeliers in the U.S. earn an annual base salary of $65,581, which translates to an hourly wage of $31.53. Aside from the base salary, Sommeliers may receive tips ranging from 15% to 20%.

In some cases, they also get a percentage of the wine sales, which would increase their overall earnings.

Which do you think is the biggest challenge in starting a Sommelier career?

You can learn more about Sommelier salaries on our Sommelier salary page.

Different Types of Sommeliers

While Sommeliers will certainly work with a focus on wine, there are multiple Sommelier career options available. Some of the main ones are:

Restaurant Sommelier

A Restaurant Sommelier is a traditional role, following in the footsteps of wine stewards. They curate wine lists, deliver wines to the restaurant floor and manage the restaurant’s wine inventory.

Potential salary: $45,000 – $75,000

Winery Sommelier

Sommeliers working in wineries enhance visitors’ experience. They lead wine tours, tastings and educate guests about wines.

Potential Salary: $35,000 – $65,000

Wine Educator

A Wine Educator is a role more apt for individuals looking to avoid a fast-paced restaurant environment. Educators usually hold formal wine courses or informal wine tastings and workshops, offering to share their wine knowledge with the world.

Potential salary: $35,000 – $70,000

Wine Buyer

Wine Buyers are Sommeliers who utilize their knowledge to purchase wines on behalf of restaurants, individuals or wine shops. Their skills are essential in selecting and buying wines that appeal to specific markets.

Potential salary: $65,000 – $110,000

Wine Consultant

Wine Consultants provide their expert input on which wines an establishment or individual should obtain to improve their wine collection and programs. They often work with restaurant owners, private collectors and wine shops.

Potential salary: $25,000 – $90,000

Wine Event Planner

Wine Event Planners are individuals who create and organize wine-related events such as festivals, tastings and pairing dinners.

Potential salary: $30,000 – $55,000

Sommelier Career FAQ

Sommeliers who wish to explore career options other than working in a restaurant can explore becoming one or more of the following:

  • Wine educator
  • Wine buyer
  • Wine consultant
  • Wine event planner

Having formal education is important for Sommeliers, especially those who aren’t new to this line of work.

While it is possible to become a Sommelier based on experience alone, most professionals who want to take their Sommelier career further should obtain a certificate proving their expertise.

Yes, you need to be at least 21 to become a Sommelier.

The role requires you to drink and serve alcohol, which means you cannot do so if you are below the minimum drinking age.

The Court of Master Sommeliers offers four different tests, each demonstrating an individual’s level of wine expertise.

The fourth level, which grants successful graduates a Master Sommelier Diploma, is the hardest to pass, as it requires the most extensive education and usually more than one attempt to pass.

The youngest Master Sommelier is Tory Takamatsu who received his Master Sommelier diploma at the age of 24.