That's the Spirit: Wine & Spirits Manager Careers

Read about wine and spirits managers and learn about the prestigious sommelier designation.

wine cellar of a wine and spirits manager

By Sarah Stevenson

So you're thinking about becoming a wine and spirits manager. The first thing you decide to do is look up some practical job market information. According to Salary.com, January 2014, the median national annual salary for a typical sommelier is $51,690. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

So far, so good, right? Then you take a closer look at the statistics: There are only 214 professionals who have earned the prestigious Master Sommelier designation from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

While that may seem intimidating—don't let it be! According to the Los Angeles Times, the informal wine culture in places like Southern California and other locations outside of San Francisco and New York City has meant less pretension for diners and more opportunities for well-trained sommeliers at every level, Master or not, male or female.

Wine and Spirits Manager or Sommelier?

You might be more likely to find a Master Sommelier in a fancy white-tablecloth restaurant, but other trained sommeliers and wine and spirits managers work in a wide range of settings, including hotels, resorts, casual dining establishments, casinos, cruise ships, and even retail and wholesale beverage companies. However, keep in mind that the two job titles are not completely interchangeable. Here's a quick introduction:

  • Wine and spirits managers, also known as beverage directors, beverage managers, or wine and beverage managers, usually have expertise in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and are in charge of the entire beverage component of a restaurant or business from both a culinary and management perspective.
     
  • Sommeliers, also called wine stewards or wine directors, focus primarily on wine, making suggestions to diners according to their tastes, and pairing foods with appropriate wines. However, their training may also include expertise in beer, spirits and even cigars. Sommeliers have specialized skills in wine tasting and evaluation as well as beverage management.

Succeeding in the Field

As a wine and spirits manager, business and management expertise is just as important a part of the job as knowing the difference between Syrah and Shiraz. You'll also want to make sure the job is a good fit for your personality, since it involves some physical demands as well as a substantial time investment. To succeed in the field, you need:

  • Excellent customer service skills
  • Organizational ability and attention to detail
  • Physical stamina to cope with long hours—and haul heavy cases of beverages
  • In-depth beverage knowledge
  • Familiarity with alcohol regulations
  • Business and marketing expertise in areas as diverse as bar operations, inventory and purchasing, and event management

Sommelier Training: A Sought-after Specialty

Beverage managers with a particular passion for food and wine may gravitate toward the sommelier specialization. Besides the top-of-the-line  Master Sommelier designation, there are a number of other certifications available from the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Sommelier Society of America, and others. The in-depth knowledge of wine gained through sommelier training can give you an edge in obtaining a job as a wine and spirits manager, a wine steward, or even a wine distributor or restaurant manager.

Sources: The Art Institutes; Court of Master Sommeliers; Culinary Institute of America; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Forbes.com.