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Why the Decline of Sommeliers Is a Crisis for All of Us

CorkRules | Feb 20, 2024

Eric Asimov's recent article isn't just about the "luxury" of sommeliers vanishing from restaurants. It's a stark warning about the potential collapse of a vibrant corner of our social and cultural ecosystem: the world of wine.

Sommeliers are more than just walking wine encyclopedias. They are curators of experience, crafting journeys of discovery through food and beverage pairings, guiding us towards new flavors and enriching our understanding of the world. Their absence creates a domino effect, leaving restaurants bereft of expertise, consumers lost in a sea of choices, and the entire wine industry facing a potential downturn in sales and engagement.

Losing the sommelier isn't just about missing out on fancy wine recommendations. It's about:

  • Diminishing the dining experience: Food and wine are meant to be enjoyed in conversation, not consumed in isolation. Sommeliers facilitate this dialogue, making connections between dishes and bottles, and creating memorable shared moments.
  • Accessibility and education: Navigating the vast world of wine can be daunting. Sommeliers provide a bridge, helping customers discover wines they'll love, regardless of their prior knowledge. Without them, many might stick to their comfort zones, hindering wine exploration and growth.
  • Hitting the industry where it hurts: Sommeliers are champions of wine. They promote specific bottles, regions, and producers, driving sales and fostering a healthy market. Their disappearance could lead to less diversity in wine consumption, impacting producers and retailers alike.

Asimov suggests "hybrid roles" as a solution, but what we truly need is a recommitment to wine education across the industry. Not everyone will become a Master Sommelier, but a broader base of knowledgeable staff could bridge the gap. We need more Bobby Stuckey and Carlin Karr who runs master wine and hospitality classes at Frasca Hospitality in Denver that demonstrate the incredible impact accessible training can have.

Here's how we can save the sommelier (and ourselves):

  • Stop seeing them as a luxury: Invest in wine education for servers, bartenders, and even chefs. Basic skills like decanting and understanding varietals can make a world of difference.
  • Embrace technology as a tool, not a replacement: Platforms like CorkRules allow customers to share preferences with restaurants, fostering personalized recommendations. But tech should empower, not replace, the human touch.
  • Reimagine the wine list: Use data analytics to curate lists that are both approachable and exciting, and leverage tech to provide in-depth information at diners' fingertips.
  • Make education accessible: Partner with other restaurants, wine societies, and educational institutions to offer affordable training programs for all levels.
  • Remember, it's about more than the wine: Sommeliers are the human connections that elevate the dining experience. We need to nurture their role as storytellers, educators, and guides to a world of flavor and community.

The wine industry has a choice: cling to an outdated vision of exclusivity or embrace the democratization of knowledge. By investing in education, innovation, and collaboration, we can ensure that the world of wine remains a vibrant, accessible, and enriching part of our lives. Let's raise a glass not just to the sommeliers, but to the future of a richer, more connected dining experience for all.

The consequences of inaction are too great to ignore. Let's raise a glass to saving the sommelier, and in doing so, saving the very soul of the wine experience.

About the Author

CorkRules makes it easier to discover and drink what you love at your favorite restaurants. Coming soon to Apple iOS devices.

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