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11.22.2006

First it Was The Nurses...

They say that good help is hard to find. We've had a critical shortage of nurses here in California and in several states around the country. Then there was the announcement of the pending shortage of science and math help_wanted.jpgteachers. And now we are feeling the pinch in the restaurants, hotels, and wine bars of America. According to an article in the New York Times today, there's a pretty critical shortage of sommeliers in the country.

Of course this won't come as news to any of us who have recently asked a waiter at a restaurant about a specific Pinot Noir and had them suggest that we have a Zinfandel instead, as "it's just like the wine you asked about." Seriously. This just happened to me in a decent restaurant last week. And there was no one to rescue the situation. That waiter was the best that restaurant had to offer me in the way of wine knowledge.

Of course, not every restaurant can afford to have someone on staff to deal with customers who want to do more than just point to a line on the wine list and say "one of them red wines please." But apparently even if they had the money and the interest, they can't find folks to do the job.

Or, as Eric Asimov points out in the article, it's actually more like they can't find people to do the job that actually know anything.

In every major metropolitan area fine dining establishments are hungry for folks who can quench the growing thirst of the wine drinking public by dispensing knowledge, advice, and that level of smoothness that distinguishes the really great restaurant staff from the merely good.

So all you young folks out there that are looking for careers, you might think about this one. Good sommeliers can make $60,000 - $80,000 a year, and if this shortage continues, those salaries will continue to rise for qualified individuals.

So what is qualified? Well there are a lot of standards out there, but judging by the quality of applicants highlighted in the article, the bar may be a lot lower than you (or I) might think. Of course, every restaurant has different standards, but lots of people have the title Sommelier on their business card, without having any formal training.

The education options for those interested in a professional career in wine continue to expand beyond the (in)famous Institute of Masters of Wine or the Court of Master Sommeliers. Most culinary schools offer professional wine education programs, as do some public universities.

So if you're stuck in a dead-end job and all you do is sit around and read Vinography all day long, I want you to stop. I want you to go out there and heed the call. Become a sommelier, and make the world better for wine lovers everywhere.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.