Q&A: How Much Does a Master Sommelier Make and What Do They Do?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 27, 2021

The goal of many hospitality careers is to make customers feel comfortable and to give them a pleasant experience at places like restaurants, hotels and spas. Many restaurants hire specialized staff like sommeliers to serve customers and improve their experiences. If you're interested in working in hospitality as a sommelier, it may be useful to understand the highest level you can reach in this career.

In this article, we answer questions to help you understand the role of a master sommelier, like how much a master sommelier makes, their typical duties and how to become one.

Related: 10 Hospitality Careers To Consider

What is a master sommelier?

A master sommelier is a wine specialist who works in restaurants, wineries or other businesses that specialize in wine. They're customer service professionals who have expert experience making wine recommendations to customers. These specialists understand what makes wine taste a specific way and how to pair it with dishes for an improved dining experience. To do this, they study for years and learn to identify wines based on their vintage, which is the year winemakers produced it, and their provenance, which is the location of production.

The title of master sommelier is the highest level you can achieve in this career. Other levels include sommelier, certified sommelier and advanced sommelier, each of which you must pass before you can achieve the mastery status. Each level requires a test and proof that you've passed the previous level.

Related: 17 Jobs in the Alcohol Industry (Plus Salaries)

What does a master sommelier do?

The duties of a master sommelier include leading every aspect of a company's wine experience while maintaining customer satisfaction. To accomplish these, professionals often have the following responsibilities:

  • Understanding wines from around the world

  • Studying wine regions and flavor profiles

  • Recommending wine pairings to customers

  • Selling bottles of wine

  • Designing wine lists for menus

  • Managing inventory, including ordering and stocking wine

  • Training employees like wine stewards and sommeliers

  • Collaborating with business owners

  • Hosting wine tasting events

  • Learning a customer's preferences for better recommendations

How much does a master sommelier make?

Salary for a master sommelier varies depending on your years of experience and the geographic location in which you work, as locations with larger wine cultures and more wineries may value this role more. While there is no specific data for the salary of a master sommelier, the average salary for sommeliers is $46,343 per year, and master sommeliers can make around three times this amount.

What are the requirements for becoming a master sommelier?

The title of a master sommelier is elite and requires exams on wine tasting and serving. Here's a closer look at the requirements for becoming a master sommelier to help you decide if pursuing this career is the right choice for you:

Become a sommelier, certified sommelier and advanced sommelier

Before you can gain the title of master, you must first pass through the preceding levels of being a sommelier. To reach the first level, you must pass the introductory exam given by the Court of Master Sommeliers, or CMS. You can take the introductory course and exam in person or online, and you must complete it within six months.

Within three years of passing the introductory course, you can take the certified sommelier exam, which certifies you as a sommelier once you pass. Taking the advanced sommelier program, which lasts three days, and the exam requires at least two years of recent experience in the industry and a certification from the CMS.

Read more: Steps and Tips for How To Become Sommelier

Gain practical experience

For many CMS exams and courses, you need current work in the hospitality and beverage industry plus years of experience. Gaining practical experience by working as a sommelier at different levels is necessary to establish yourself as a competent sommelier and to fulfill the requirements for the exams and courses.

A great way to gain experience while preparing for your master sommelier exam is to apprentice with or work under a current master sommelier. Having a qualified mentor may help you better understand the components of the exam and what areas you can improve.

Submit an application of intent

The CMS requires all interested candidates to submit an application of intent to take the master sommelier exam by a specific date each year. Each section of the exam has a different application, so be sure to check which sections you need to complete before applying. If the CMS approves your application, they send an invitation for you to take the test, for which you can then apply and pay any fees.

After the CMS receives your final application and payment, you must appear on the date of the exam to take it in person while master sommeliers test your knowledge of theory, practical ability or tasting skills, depending on which exam you registered to take.

Pass the exam

The entire master sommelier exam comprises three sections that test different aspects of your wine and customer knowledge. First-time candidates must first take the theory exam to test their knowledge about wine, including geographic areas known for their wine, ways to grow grapes and how to make and store wine effectively. Once you pass the theory test, you can submit your application of intent for the practical and tasting sections of the master sommelier exam.

In the practical section, you must demonstrate your ability to provide customers with excellent service and make successful recommendations. The tasting section involves tasting multiple wines in a certain time frame and identifying their vintage and provenance based on your knowledge of various wineries and regions. The CMS allows three years to pass all three sections of the test, so you can take each section multiple times to help improve your knowledge and give you more chances to become a master sommelier.

Related: 15 Jobs in the Wine Industry

What skills are useful for a master sommelier?

There are some skills that can help you succeed in your career as a master sommelier, like:

  • Passion: Passion is a vital skill for sommeliers because your passion for the job allows you to keep learning and provide enthusiastic service to customers. If you're passionate about being a sommelier, you may learn your trade more easily and feel confident as you work your way up through the levels of this career.

  • Dedication: Dedication is useful for becoming a master sommelier as you study for exams and potentially retake them multiple times after studying and improving your knowledge. Being dedicated to customer service and providing customers with a pleasant restaurant or winery experience can also help you perform better in this role.

  • People skills: Since master sommeliers often work with customers and employees, people skills can help you make deeper connections and create a welcoming experience. People skills are also useful for communicating with customers to ensure you understand their wine preferences and can meet make a wine pairing that exceeds their expectations.

  • Patience: Having patience is important as a master sommelier because you may have to handle fast-paced or overwhelming situations in hospitality. When you're patient, you can think through situations more easily and keep calm while serving customers and directing wine stewards or other sommeliers effectively.

  • Adaptability: Sommeliers may benefit from being adaptable because of the constant changes in restaurant environments. Adapting to different customers throughout the day, unexpected challenges that may arise and learning about new types of wine regularly are vital for a master sommelier to perform well in their job, so this skill is often very useful.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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