The Exciting Life of a Sommelier: Meet Lucia Palm

Lucia Palm, sommelier with a glass of wine

If you are considering becoming a sommelier there are several paths, you can choose and tips you should follow. We spoke about career progression and best jobs in the United States, but nothing beats personal experience.

In today’s celebrity interview we want you to meet Lucia Palm, a Californian sommelier, wine educator and content creator.

Lucia brings delicious wines to everyone’s table without having to spend big bucks on a bottle. If you have a passion for wine and want to make a living out of it read this interview and follow Lucia on her wine journey.

What inspired you to become a sommelier? 

Lucia: I didn’t discover the passion for wine early on. It all happened while I was in culinary school. I just turned 21 and was super excited for the upcoming wine class, not because I cared about wines, but because I imagined I would attend the class and drink the wine. To my surprise, while attending the wine course, I was very interested. I wanted to learn more about wine and food pairing. That was the breakthrough moment for me. I realized I want to pursue a front of the house career instead of working in a kitchen.

After we finished the course, I went on to pursue a sommelier certification. I picked the Court of Master Sommeliers and got certified. 

How did you end up being an entrepreneur?  

Lucia: I was working in New York in a Michelin star restaurant for seven years and decided that I wanted to do something on my own. That was the moment I started posting my recipes and eventually got paid to be a recipe developer. However, during the pandemic, it seemed like everyone became a recipe developer overnight. The market was too saturated, and I realized it was too challenging to succeed.

I tried to figure out how to stand out while still doing what I love, and then it hit me. I had a deep passion for wines, and not a lot of people spoke about it on social media, so I decided to give it a try.

Lucy loves wine, became a brand that teaches people about wine. I got my following quickly up on both TikTok and Instagram.

Speaking from experience, what are the necessary skills for working in a fine dining restaurant?  

Lucia: Looking back at my time in the fine dining industry I would have to say that the most important skill is attention to detail. Many are not aware, but there are so many moving parts in fine dining. You have to be aware of these things at all times to turn the plate and position the glass where it should be.

The small details are extremely important. These small details are one thing that makes the difference for a customer. With this being said, I want everyone to understand the following:

The single most important skill in the hospitality industry is exceptional customer service.

Customer service is what keeps the customers coming back. Now think from the customer’s perspective, there are so many restaurants to choose from, and food quality is something no restaurant will compromise on, so how can you stand out? If the food quality is good, the customer service must be exceptional for them to return. Don’t we all have at least one place where we keep coming back for the service more than the food? I most certainly do!

What is your approach to hiring team members for a restaurant?  

Lucia: If I were to open a restaurant, the biggest criteria I would look for in team members is willingness to serve people and deliver exceptional customer service.

All the other skills are teachable. Let’s take sommeliers as an example. Pallet development takes time and practice, but it can be thought, food and wine pairing even easier, wine origin it’s just a matter of learning a bit of history. Selling the wine to customers takes more than these skills, it takes passion and the ability to translate your passion to the customers.

As an owner I would ensure that the service is professional and warm! Being immaculate is good, but people want to be served by people. Let’s not forget that. A lot of places should revisit this statement, they need to loosen up a little bit.

What does it take to become a good sommelier?  

Lucia: Talent is important if you want to become a sommelier, but it’s not all. Every skill can be learned. You might find it hard to believe, but pallet development is a teachable skill. Culinary school really helped me with this.

A lot of tasting wine is figuring out what grape is it and what not. There is a lot of theory to study, but moreover to develop a great palate you need to taste as much wine as possible.

That is probably the best advice I can give to those starting out.

I would also suggest going into wine bars and asking some of the more experienced people to mentor them, more often than not people are willing to mentor.

It goes without saying, but let’s just put it out there. If you don’t like wine, try with another career.

Is being a sommelier worth it?  

Lucia: The short answer is yes, it’s definitely worth it.

I don’t regret any of the hard work I put into becoming a certified sommelier and developing my palate.

But this translates to every job, if you love it, it’s worth it. If you don’t enjoy your job any amount of work will feel overwhelming.

How to become your mentee?

Lucia: You would think that there is a complicated answer and selection process behind this. But despite my success I didn’t forget how important it was for me to have a mentor, so I would love to be someone’s mentor.

The only thing they have to do is ask and show their passion for wine and serving people.

This advice goes out to everyone seeking a sommelier career. When you find a mentor ask as many questions as possible. This is something that helped me a lot and trust me in the long run it will help you as well.

If you want to become a certified sommelier you need to stick with your mentor, learn how to open champaign bottles. Knowing the grapes vintage and origin is a lot about learning the theory. But to reach that point you also need to blind taste as many wines as possible and ask your mentor all the questions.

The certification exam has a written part, and an oral exam. The oral exam is the tricky part because the examiners can ask any questions from wines to cocktails.

Now here is the secret sauce for a budget friendly approach to tasting wine.

You can go to a wine bar and ask them to pour you 2 ounces (about 59.15 ml) of all their wines by glass, if they have time, you can also ask them to present the wines to you.

This was my way of familiarizing myself with wines at an affordable price.

The next step would be to ask them to pour the wines without telling you which one they pour, and you try to recognize and talk about the wine.

What resources would you recommend to someone starting out? 

Lucia: I need to start this off with my absolute favorite wine book.

“Get yourself a copy of Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible and read it cover to cover.”

But that’s not all, there are so many YouTube videos, from which you can learn a lot. People also started educational content on Instagram.

What is one piece of advice you wish you knew when starting out?

Lucia: That’s a good question, and I have to really think about an answer. There are many things I wish I knew. Laughs.

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

You are doing this, and it’s impressive. It’s hard, and you need to be patient with yourself. 

We couldn’t interview a sommelier without asking for some recommendations.

What is the recommended summer wine and food pairing? 

Lucia: During the summertime I want something zippy, really fresh and citrusy.

So, I would suggest a nice dry white, orange or rose wine to pair with a refreshing salad or simple guacamole.

I think everyone will enjoy this pairing and feel good after having it.

Fast track to becoming a sommelier 

Lucia is planning on starting her YouTube channel. She plans on continuing the education efforts online. Moreover, if you are in LA, she will be working with some restaurants to organize wine education for beginners and wine tastings.

With less than 300 Master Sommeliers this might be the right career track for many. Check out the certifications available or try to reach Lucia for personal recommendations.

If you are already done with training and certifications, we invite you to browse the sommelier positions in NYC, Miami and the top-paying positions in the US.

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