Nine years back, when Magandeep Singh decided to devote himself full-time to his passion for wines, few in India were even aware of the term 'sommelier'. Today, his decision to go against the grain stands vindicated - the wine industry in India has grown by leaps and bounds since then, making someone with his expertise invaluable. Apart from being a celebrated wine consultant and educator, he is also a food and wine writer.
Singh's interest in wines developed while he was still a student at the Institute of Hospitality Management (IHM), Mumbai. "At that time, people barely knew what IHM was, so to be a sommelier was too far-fetched. But my parents were supportive." After a Master's degree in hospitality management at Institut Vatel, France, Singh decided to take the plunge. "I was working at a hotel in France. I realised I spoke French but didn't feel for food and wine as the French people did." So he enrolled for a post-graduate diploma course in wine tasting at the prestigious L'Université du Vin and travelled all over France, visiting wine cellars, wine boutiques and vineyards.
He began his career at the bottom of the ladder, at a small wine shop in southern Rhone. His pay - food, wine and transport allowance, with a few free meals at a restaurant with his girlfriend. But, as he puts it, "I never did this for commercial reasons. I did this…to understand my adopted country better and to be a more cultured human being."
Upon his return to India, he started working with a wine company and handled their wine training, appreciation and list-building activities. In 2001, he finally branched out on his own as a wine consultant (he prefers the term 'wine solutions provider'). Since then, he has been a wine consultant with several hotels. Later this year, he is set to launch India's first wine and beverage education institute, Indian Wine and Beverage School.
What's it about?
At its most basic, the French term 'sommelier' refers to a wine waiter or wine steward. However, a sommelier is much more than that. He/She is a highly trained and knowledgeable wine professional who specialises in all aspects of wine service, from advising diners on what wines would go best with certain foods to the nitty gritty of procurement, managing inventory flow, creating wine lists for F&B establishments, mentoring budding sommeliers, etc. This requires a blend of hospitality skills and in-depth knowledge of wines - the grape varieties, regions, vintages, vineyards, how to taste wine, etc. Depending on their personal skills, sommeliers can join the wine trade and work in wine production, in the import and export of wine, consulting and advising, wine education, training, wine writing and so on.
Institutes & URLs
Vincrest India, Delhi. www.vincrest.com (slated to open by August 2009)
Institute for Wine and Beverage Studies, Delhi. www.iwbs.in (slated to open by August 2009)
KBR School of Wine, Mumbai. www.kbrwineschool.com
The Court of Master Sommeliers, UK, offers the highest internationally-recognised certification of Master Sommelier. Also offers Advanced Sommelier Certificate and the Introductory Sommelier Certificate. www.mastersommeliers.org
Sommelier Society of America, USA. www.sommeliersocietyofamerica.org
American Sommelier Education, USA. www.americansommelier.org
International Wine Guild, USA. www.internationalwineguild.com
International Sommelier Guild, China, USA, Canada. www.internationalsommelier.com
UK Sommelier Association www.uksommelier.com
L'Université du Vin, France- www.universite-du-vin.com/
Wine and Spirit Education Trust School, UK- www.wset.co.uk
"A good hotel management degree focusing on wine with on-the-job training or a certified course from a well respected organisation are adequate as long as you have a strong interest in the subject and the desire to learn," says Reva K. Singh.
However, she adds, a Certified Sommelier qualification from a reputed institute is an added asset.
A sommelier certification offers practical training in wine service and tasting as well as knowledge about wine regions, winemaking and viticultural practices, etc
7 am: Breakfast
10 am: Check stocks, receive new wines, conduct tasting and prepare tasting notes
12 pm: Do inventory checks. Conduct/ be part of training sessions
2 pm: Look after service during lunch hour
7 pm: Look after service during dinner
10.30 pm: Time to call it a day
How do I get there?
A degree from a reputed hotel management institute followed by on-the-job training
A sommelier certificate course from an accredited, internationally-recognised institution. The levels start from Beginner's to Intermediate and Advanced. The highest certification is that of Master Sommelier, offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, UK.
Owing to the variety of sectors sommeliers can offer their services in hotels, restaurants, import-export companies, or even as
independent consultants, the payoff varies immensely.
In F&B establishments-
Junior sommelier: Rs 5000-7000 per month
Senior sommelier: Rs 7000-10000 per month
Head sommelier: Rs 10000-25000 per month
Independent wine consultants: anywhere from Rs 25000 to a couple of lakhs a month
A sommelier's job is to manage inventory as well as assist a diner to select the most suitable wine for his budget and the dish ordered.-Reva Singh
Reva Singh, Editor, Sommelier India - The wine magazine
Where does the Indian wine market stand vis-a-vis the global scenario?
Compared with the major global markets, the Indian wine market is infinitesimal. However, because we started from such a low base, the growth of the wine market year on year has been impressive. Despite numerous logistical problems and irrational taxation, volumes have been growing at more than 25 per cent every year. Total volumes were forecast to increase from 1.2 million cases in 2007/08 to 5 million cases in five years and 50 million cases in 2020.
What is the scope of the market in the next 5-7 years?
Despite the setback this year due to the terrorist attacks and the consequent fall in tourist traffic combined with the global economic meltdown, the forecast for the next five years continues to be good. The real change will come, however, only after the wine retail sector improves and the taxes come down
Do you see a demand for sommeliers growing in the coming years?
Yes, as Indians become more accustomed to drinking wine with their meals, we will see the tribe of sommeliers grow in fine restaurants and hotels.