To be a sommelier is to be a wine steward. But it’s also much more than that. Many skills must be learned, various roles must be played, and an extremely diverse set of hats must be worn. There are late nights, early mornings, lots of memorization, and many hours on your feet. It goes without saying that a day in the life of a sommelier requires lots of liquid consumption: coffee and caffeine to stay awake, water to stay hydrated, and wine to stay educated.
Dinner service typically starts at 5PM. But the day of a sommelier begins well before that. Waking up early is key; given the immense amount of studying needed to prepare for the job, and the fact that most nights generally end well past midnight, morning hours are essential for knowledge growth. Daytime is generally spent at industry events or trade tastings, personally studying for whichever phase of exam is next or just keeping up with industry related news and all that goings on of the wine world.
On the first of every month, sommeliers go into the restaurant very early in the morning for inventory. Otherwise, sommeliers will generally arrive at their restaurants around 3PM. They’ll typically spend an hour accepting deliveries, putting wines away, restocking cellars, preparing wines for the evening, and updating wines that are out of stock. Preparation is key for a successful evening. After this prep is completed, a sommelier will lace up his or her dress shoes, tie his tie (if he is a man), secure his certification pin (if he or she is lucky enough to have one), and head to family meal.
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Family meal is a staple in restaurants. It’s a short time, generally a half hour to forty-five minutes, where everyone on staff sits down together and shares a meal before a long night of work. Family meal is prepared by the kitchen; anything goes for family meal. After the dinner is complete, the staff lines up for a meeting prior to the start of service, generally around 4:45. The role of sommeliers during the meeting is to update the entire staff on any changes to the wine list, like new or removed bottles. The sommeliers are responsible for ensuring that the entire staff is both educated and comfortable with the wine list.
At 5PM, the fun begins. Sommeliers spend the entire evening running from table to table, up and down the stairs from cellar to dining room, shuttling bottles and by-the-glass pours to keep their guests happy. The night is a constant back and forth between bar and guests, tables and cellar, and station to service. Duties include but are certainly not limited to curating food and wine pairings, aiding in guests’ wine selection, re-filling glasses, and above all, ensuring guests are having an exquisite dining experience. While restaurants might accept their last guests around 10PM, that doesn’t guarantee that service won’t go on into the early morning hours.
After the last guests’ glasses have been poured, which can be anywhere from 11PM to 2AM, sommeliers still have an entire breakdown to do: putting wines away, cleaning all ice buckets, polishing glasses and decanters, and restocking bottles.
After breakdown is complete, the sommeliers are free to clock out. But after a busy night of work, some choose to unwind. Like most people who hit the bar for a post-work happy hour, sommeliers will often gather with their fellow friends on staff and head to a local dive or pub. There, far from the expensive bottles they’ve been pouring all night, they will order a cheap beer (the sommeliers’ weakness, surprisingly!) and unwind before heading home.
“The job is extremely taxing and a lot of work,” one NYC based sommelier told us. “The only way you can do it is if you’re truly passionate about it.”
By the time a sommelier actually hits the sheets, it can be anywhere from 2AM until 5AM, only to rise in a few hours and do it all over again the next day.