The SOMM Journal

October/November 2014

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20 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2014 { bottom line } EARLIER THIS YEAR WHILE DOING A WINE JUDGING ALONGSIDE a well-known Northern California sommelier, out of the blue he turned to me and said, "You know what I don't get? Master Sommeliers who jump to other businesses as soon as they get their badge. Especially when they go into sales. I hate it when an MS calls on me—it seems almost demeaning to the profession." My immediate response was that I thought that that he wasn't being totally fair. We all know how hard it is to attain an MS; and if, once the goal is reached, there are rewards of more decent salaries and benefits working in sales or distribution, then c'est la vie. A few weeks later, Blake Gray, a Roederer Award–winning blogger, came out with a post entitled "Most Master Sommeliers are somms in name only." Citing a page in Nation's Restaurant News listing 55 Master Sommeliers, Gray wrote: "Of the 55, I can see only 8 who regularly worked the floor when the article was written. Another six might have been on the floor sometimes. That's just 25% combined. And at least 3 of those 14 have moved away from those on-the-floor jobs since the article was written." I like Mr. Gray, and the way that he often says things others won't say (at least not pub - licly). But again, is this being fair? I think not. Out of the 21 most recent American Master Sommeliers, for instance, 11 are still working for restaurants or hotels. I count four who have gone into some sort of sales (distribution, supplier or retail/merchant), and three working for wineries. The final three appear to be between jobs, in all likelihood, transitioning to wine-related fields outside a restaurant's four walls. As it's often said, though, restaurant floors have always been about younger people, stronger legs, youthful energy. It's physical. I quit the business after 28 years because, frankly, I could no longer hack it. Of the first five American Master Sommeliers—beginning with Eddie Osterland in 1973—four left their restaurant floors long before anyone can remember. Only Richard Dean, MS (1975) still plies his trade, in San Francisco. Dean's advice to sommeliers considering a lifetime of tableside service? "Get yourself a good personal trainer," he recently told me. Everyone, it seems, now wants to be a sommelier, whether they've ever walked a restaurant floor or not. It's gotten to the point where the word now means "some sort of wine expert," rather than its original meaning tied specifically to the everyday drudgery of restaurant life. I may be old school, but I'm not opposed to the new definition. Anything that stimulates interest and consumption of wine cannot be bad—especially for actual working sommeliers. Anyone who has ever worked floors during the days when Blue Nun was a top seller, or when Zinfandel was mostly pink, would have to say that it's infinitely easier to sell good wine than ever before. Many of today's "sommeliers" may not actually do the work of sommeliers, but they contribute just as much to the profession. When you look at the most consistent, highest-performing restaurants in the country over the past ten, 20 years—a Frasca in Boulder, the Union Square Hospitality Group in New York, a French Laundry, Boulevard or Spago in California—anyone can see what they all have in common: They employ sommeliers . . . lots and lots of them. Successful sommeliers generate their own success. But when you think of it, it would be a lot harder if not for a groundswell of interest in wine generated by everyone's efforts—even the non-sommelier sommeliers'. When Sommelier No Longer Means Sommelier Randy Caparoso began his restaurant career in 1974, and now makes his living as a wine journalist from a vineyard cottage in Lodi. As a found - ing partner and former vice president of the Roy's family of restaurants, he was Santé's first Restaurant Wine & Spirits Professional of the Year (1998), and Restaurant Wine's Wine Marketer of the Year (1992 & 1999). by Randy Caparoso

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