Sometimes I’m asked how I became involved in wine or, more recently, how I came to be a sommelier. The truth is that it was never one conscious decision, but a series of events that shaped my experience and understanding of wine, to the point where one day the thought that “yes, I could do this for the rest of my life” was born in my mind.
An Unremarkable Beginning
I graduated from university with a useless BA in Sociology and spent the next six months job searching. For one horrible month I was a door-to-door salesman, trying to get people to change electricity providers before I eventually quit in disgust at the company’s hard-sales tactics and deceptive practices, and has shaped my decision to be an educator rather than a salesman to this day.
(Watch the movies “Boiler Room” and “Wolf of Wall Street” for an idea of what door-to-door salesmen are trained to do.)
The First Taste
Eventually I landed a job at a wine club that catered to a large member base all around Australia. I was employed as a “Wine Advisor”, but in fact I was more like a glorified telephone operator, scheduling wine deliveries and processing charges and refunds where necessary.
There were some fringe benefits to the job – there were monthly wine tastings help by an internal tasting panel, helping to decide which wines we would supply to our members, and any leftover wines were up for grabs by the rest of the staff. Stampedes down the stairs to the tasting rooms became a regular occurrence, and it was here that my taste in wine first started to take shape.
Despite the sedentary nature of my role I did derive some pleasure from it – I genuinely enjoyed speaking with some of our members over the phone, and was ready to research more about particular wines at their request. Eventually the chance to study a WSET Level 2 course arose and I took it – at the time it was not because I had a love of wine, but because I thought it would help me to do my job better.
Through the course my knowledge was broadened and my palate was sharpened, and I gained new respect for wine, not merely as a beverage but a topic of study. When the schedule for the WSET Level 3 course became available I signed up once again – this time, not merely for occupational reasons.
I worked there over a period of three years, and it was a rewarding time in my life, but I knew that I had to move on eventually – I needed to leave the cubicle farm, to escape from behind the computer screen and the telephones, and become closer to the wines and the people who respected them as I did.
It was also around this time that I discovered the documentary film “Somm”. I won’t be melodramatic and exclaim “oh my God, that film made me want to become a sommelier!”, but for the first time I was presented with this unique possibility, of becoming a student of a subject I could respect and being able to share it with other people.
But transitions are seldom smooth. I found a job listing looking for a “sommelier” at a bar/bistro that had just opened, but they required me to start in four days. Because of this I quit my office job without giving the requisite two-weeks notice, forfeiting most of my saved up annual leave and losing considerable goodwill amongst my old managers.
Immediately when I started this new job, I knew I had been deceived. There was no opportunity to exercise my wine knowledge, either with patrons, colleagues or managers. At the office I may have been a “Wine Advisor” when in reality I was a glorified telephone operator. Here, instead of being a “sommelier” I was a glorified food-runner.
I didn’t even get the chance to quit. A week later the man who hired me told me he had to “let me go” because he had hired too many people. Add to that my obvious lack of hospitality experience at the time, it was clear this new arrangement was not going to work out.
Read more: A Day In The Life Of A Sommelier – Part 1