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Taster’s choice

If wines spark your fancy, becoming a sommelier will be like nirvana, says Girija Duggal.

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:40 IST
Girija Duggal

Ten years ago, when Magandeep Singh decided to devote himself to his passion for wines, few in India were 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, making someone with his expertise invaluable.

Apart from being a celebrated wine consultant and educator, he is also a food and wine writer.

Gagan Sharma, sommelier and wine educator, agrees: “With globalisation, people are well-travelled and well-informed. An Indian meal sharing the table with an international wine is no more a strange affair. Most wine drinkers have engaged with a sommelier at restaurants abroad and wish to experience the same in India too.” Incidentally, Sharma works with Singh and has been handling key accounts like multi-award winning Olive Restaurants, Azurro Restaurants, Hotel Le Meridien, Galaxy Hotel, Hotel Oberoi, Hotel Hilton, Radisson Hotel, Hotel Manor, Hotel Samrat, and the likes. Presently, he’s single-handedly handling the wine sector for retail chain stores, Spencers Hyper, in Delhi NCR and Kolkata.

Singh’s interest in wines developed as 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. 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. 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.

The industry has begun to recognise the need for qualified wine stewards and Sharma has encouraging words for budding Indian sommeliers. “The Indian hospitality (industry) has a paucity of sommeliers. With new wineries opening up fast and new hotels placing their produce rapidly, the demand for a qualified, well-equipped sommelier is almost inevitable. And the demand for long will only go one-way, upwards.”

But he cautions: “An aspirant must consider the costs involved in trainings, the effort on a daily basis, the humility of working as a server at various outlets, and yet being paid only a fraction of what he may have earned in other industries. Passion is the only way to stay on the path, then.”

And the hospitality industry is not the only avenue for qualified sommeliers. “Apart from hotels, sommeliers are constantly being hired by big wine-import companies and marketing offices of wine houses. They require them to judge the wines for what’s inside the bottle than the financials involved behind them. Also, another interesting avenue is to be a consultant to the smaller restaurants, wineries, embassies, and other wine-dealing entities,” says Sharma.

With inputs from Pankaj Mullick

What's it about?
The French term ‘sommelier’ refers to a wine steward. However, a sommelier is much more than that. S/he 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 sommeliers, etc. This requires a blend of hospitality skills and in-depth knowledge of wines — grape varieties, regions, vintages, vineyards, how to taste wine, etc. Depending on personal skills, sommeliers can join the wine trade, work in wine production, in the import and export of wine, consulting and advising, wine education, training, wine writing etc

Clock Work
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

The Payoff
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: Rs5000-7000 per month
Senior sommelier: Rs7000-10000 per month
Head sommelier: Rs10000-25000 per month
Independent wine consultants: anywhere from Rs25000 to a couple of lakhs a month

Skills
“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

How do i get there?
A degree from a reputed hotel management institute followed by on-the-job training OR
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

Institutes & urls
. Vincrest India, Delhi.
www.vincrest.com
. Institute for Wine and Beverage Studies, Delhi
www.iwbs.in
. KBR School of Wine, Mumbai
www.kbrwineschool.com

Abroad
. 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

Pros & cons


.

An extremely knowledge-driven profession


.

Potential of being part of one of the sunrise industries in India


.

Mixing with the cultured and the wealthy


.

Can involve foreign travel


.

One can start one’s own business — consultancy, wine import-export business


.

Must confront Indian society’s poor image of profession

Set for Growth

A seasoned journalist in the field lays out the scope of the industry’s potential

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% every year.

Total volumes were forecast to increase from 1.2 million cases in 2007-2008 to 5 million cases in five years and 50 million cases in 2020.

What in your view is the scope of the wine market in the next five-seven years?
The forecast for the wine industry over 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 further.

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 across the country.

Reva K Singh, editor, Sommelier India interviewed by Girija Duggal

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