A sommelier must learn how to taste wine, to know how to talk wine, then selling and serving is fun and easy!
Somm advice on how one can become a professional sommelier or wine steward, by Sommelier & Chef Richard "Rick" Boufford
Number one is communication - Learn how to taste wine so you can learn how to talk wine!
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So you want to be a Sommelier or a SOMM !

What is a Sommelier?

Best I can tell, nobody really owns the rights to the term or designation "sommelier". A sommelier is just the French word for the wine waiter. This was and is a separate restaurant employee who is generally in charge of purchasing, storing, making the wine list and more importantly, the serving of the wine to the customers both through personal suggestion and table service and through education of the entire wait staff.

How do you pronounce Sommelier? A You Tube Video demonstration (not Rick's voice!) SOMMELIER
(Try to say sommelier yourself and you may understand why some choose to shorten it to SOMM...)

Here I am as the sommelier at
Alfredo's Restaurante at the South Coast Plaza Hotel
in Orange County, California from 1983 to 1986.


In those days we wore a tuxedo and a tastevin.
This sterling silver tasting cup gave the sommelier
the power to steal wine from the customers...


The formalities of the hotel also had me to using
my full name, Richard. This was the only time in my
career I used it. Yet still, in 2016, 30 years later,
some still call me Richard.


Once a sommelier, always a sommelier?

What are your goals as a Sommelier?

Before we get started, let me explain that from my experience, there are basically two types of sommeliers. Allow me to demonstrate by comparing in broad strokes what I personally saw as the basic differences between two of the greatest wine growing regions in France; Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Burgundy I saw as more of a “salt of the earth” wine growing region where many of the finest producers are the actual farmers, growers, wine makers, bottlers, labelers and more, all in one, or at least all in one family. These people you could say truly live the land and they know everything about what they do from their personal hands on experience because they are working and living every aspect of the entire process. Most own very small plots of land, sometimes just a couple rows of vines within any number of vineyards or appellation controlled areas. Each and every year is a make it or break it event and so every detail is watched very closely. Burgundians are very much a hands on community of individual growers and producers and lean towards the artistic side of the wine making industry. A burgundy producer’s wine knowledge tends to be more specialized to their own area.

Bordeaux was for the most part quite different. Many of the chateaus are fairly large in comparison and all the vineyards are generally located on the estate itself. These chateaus are generally owned and operated by wealthy individuals or families (or corporations) many of which have little or nothing to do with the actual wine making or producing process itself. Although many have a great deal of knowledge about wine, it’s value, the marketing of their products and they are well acquainted with their competitors. Painting in broad strokes I found it more of a whatever “money can buy” type of wine growing area. Most producers in Bordeaux can weather a lean vintage much more easily than their Burgundian compatriots. Most of the producers I met in Bordeaux tended to be more knowledgeable in the competition and business end of the wine industry.

Of course both produce great wine but there are definite differences between both these two great wine producing areas and perhaps more so, the people that live and work there.

What are your goals?

They can help you to decide which path you might take to become a sommelier.

How do you become a Sommelier?

Some options to consider:

Find a Mentor - This is more the hands on Burgundian style where you find yourself a restaurant where you love the wine list and style of service and go work there. Even if you start as a dish washer (first job), bus person, waiter or whatever it takes, you are working your way into the industry. Make it known you would one day like to learn the sommelier’s responsibilities. Be an eager learner and a great listener. Always remember you are there to learn not to teach! This is how I broke into the wine industry, and I enjoyed the fact I could concentrate more on the artistic aspects of the industry.

An alternative to the above is to get a job with a respected wine shop. You'll be amazed how much you'll learn just by reading the labels as you're re-stocking wine into the bins and shelves. You'll also have many opportunities to hear first hand the customers comments and reports on what they've purchased, tasted recently, or are looking to buy and why. Listen and pay attention!

Enroll in a Certified Program - This is more of the Bordeaux approach and you’ll have to learn and memorize a combination of what you want to know and many things which are just industry standards. There are a number of programs (see list below) where you can get certified in a number of different capacities. Everything from a fun loving day class to the becoming of what is called a “Master Sommelier” which takes many years of training, testing and continued learning and I believe it has a failure rate of about 97%. Last I saw there were only about 230 people in all the world (or was it just the USA?) who have earned the "Master Sommelier" designation since it started.

Start with some self teaching
- You may want to begin by seeing if this is what you really want to do. If you're not confident with you're tasting method try ours - "What To Look For In Wine" - In 1983, I was hired at Alfredo's South Coast Plaza Hotel as the single sommelier in a room large enough to make it difficult to get to every table. I was on commission, and I soon learned I needed figure out how to get some help. So I wrote the original booklet and created a tasting class hoping to inspire the waiter staff, some of whom at the time had no problem just taking drink orders. My goal was to give the entire staff the confidence to "talk wine" so they could then help their customers not only find the wine they wanted but to also boost the waiters sales (um, lets be honest, this was the waiters true motivation and the only way I could sell the program...) But, by learning to really "taste" and discuss wine for themselves, they not only had a lot more fun, they were able to tell the customer the differences between both low and higher priced wines, and more so, the many bargains that I went out of my way to include on the wine list. The wine sales at Alfredo's restaurant increased so much I soon became one of the highest paid sommeliers in the nation and both the F & B director and my manager were a little put off by how much money I was making for a part time job. This vast increase came about simply because the staff became far more confident on how to "talk wine" in plain everyday language. Table talk became an educated learning and sharing experience rather than a sales pitch.. It not only boosted sales it increased return customers and we became a very wine friendly restaurant.

After leaving Alfredo's I did a short stint at the Golden Truffle restaurant with Alan Greeley. Let's just say Alan and I had way too much fun and I left to start a wine school that taught both industry professionals and the general public at the wine bar at High Time Cellars in Costa Mesa. "What To Look For In Wine" (our how to taste wine class) was by far our most popular class and even became mandatory for the wait staff at numerous restaurants in the Orange County area. Later, I updated it with color pictures for my customers at The Black Sheep Bistro because to many I was still "Richard" the sommelier (even though I had moved back into chef in the kitchen) and many wanted to learn how to taste wine like a professional sommelier. As a professional in this business for many decades now, it's still the learning to taste properly and confidently that is without a doubt the first and most important step into the world of wine, whether you want to turn pro or not.

What makes a great sommelier?

Some of the qualities a great sommelier should have include;

Focused - You must be able to block out the world and concentrate on what’s in front of you. This goes for both the wine your tasting and the customer at the table.

Highly Motivated - The competition is both healthy and a reality. You must stay on top of your game.

Well Educated - And able to retain details. You need to know everything possible about what you choose to serve on your wine list so you can share it with your staff and your customers. The list is quite long and includes things like; geography, farming, historical details, numerous legal matters, current events and so much more.

Energetic - Let’s face it, you’re on your feet for the entire shift, calmly running this way and that, polishing all those glasses and having them ready for service, and putting all that wine away? It takes both physical and mental stamina.

Humble - This is the kind of vocation where one is constantly learning and in a very short time you realize you can never and will never know it all.

Open Minded - You’re continually exposed to something you’ve never had before.

Loves Food - Let’s face it, table wine is that, served at the table with food. The more foods and types of food you enjoy and expose yourself to, the better you can relate to your customer.

Has a Great Palate - This you continue to develop and refine over your entire career. A good basic tasting knowledge, with practice, becomes a life long friend with cascading benefits. Need help? Learn to taste and talk wine!
See our
; "What To Look For In Wine"

A People Person - If you don’t love working closely and intimately with people, don’t bother.

A Great Communicator - I said a communicator not a talker. You must be able to tell both your staff and your customer what is you have available and why. Most diners want to know what you’d recommend for their dish, they don’t what to hear everything you know.

A Great Listener - In my opinion the most overlooked aspect of being a sommelier, you need to really listen to your customer so that you can then determine what is is they really want.

A Great Mediator - You also have to be able to hear the whole table all at the same time. There will be times when you have to hear over the "talkative" showoff with the wine list to catch the faint whisper of the obviously far more in tune gal at the far end of the table. Then you're going to have to figure out how you're going to address the situation at the same time being respectful to both..

A Respected Partier - But not a drunk. Quite frankly this is probably one of the harder parts of the job! The ability to fully enjoy what you do without ever overdoing it.

In Addition - To continue do the job well one must be willing to constantly keep up with what’s going on in the industry, what’s currently available and what the trends are. In my day a sommelier pretty much kept to "table wines" and all things made from wine must (cognac, armagnac, brandies, ports, dessert wines etc.) Today, and depending on where you choose to work, some sommelier's are required to have great depth on all beers, spirits, liquors, and in a few instances (and I got to laugh here) even the use of cannabis

Demonstrating the proper opening of sparkling wine at our schools most popular class "What To Look For In Wine"
while participants learn to taste the different components of the grapes themselves. Numerous classes were held at
the Hi-Time wine bar from 1986 to 1989.

Places to look into to further your education or get certified;






Should you become a Master of Wine?






Should you become a Master Sommelier?

Somm Advice
The single most important part to becoming a Sommelier,
or a serious wine collector, is simply learning how to taste wine!

If you're not confident with your wine tasting skills, this is Rick's straight forward professional step by step process where he
shows you how a pro uses all of his/her senses to properly evaluate any and all wines regardless of their price or quality.
Rick says, "with a little practice it becomes as normal as breathing, you just do it naturally!"

Available in both book and video formats!
Which is best? The book gives the greater detail and you can be slow and meticulous. The DVD and online videos give you
more of a "live class" experience and Rick says don't try to watch it without a tasting glass of wine each time you go through it.

Both together work best...

The book is available at our Create Space e-store
Or get it at Amazon.com

Get the online book on Kindle!

Get the DVD and learn to taste "live" with Rick over and over!

The DVD at Create Space e-store
Here it is at Amazon.com

ALSO available in HD Video On Demand at Vimeo!

See the trailer, then,

Rent or Buy online in HD!

Please understand this is not a "show" or for entertainment purposes, this is a no-nonsense presentation of the
vigorous tasting method a true professional sommelier or world class wine collector uses to evaluate wine.
For both the DVD's and the online videos, it's suggested you participate by having a tasting glass
of wine each time you go through the steps. The class then comes alive!

For more info see here;

What To look For In Wine

Links to Rick's other worlds!

A JUST GOOD FUN production, "Creating Community Through The Arts"

© 2016 Rick and Diana Boufford and justgoodfun.net