The sommelier community is small and super connected. These days in the era of Facebook, we all know what each other are drinking and studying each time we log on. The really critical networking, however, happens in tasting groups, trade tastings, and festivals. I hosted a tasting group for years at the Fifth Floor Restaurant as I prepared myself for the Advanced and Masters exams. Everyone would show up at 11am on Wednesdays with a bottle of classic wine in a paper bag and we would practice our blind tasting. Sometimes our group would consist of two and some days it would balloon to 12.
The people that have joined the group over the years are some of the top wine professionals in the city today. We had retailers, distributors, sommeliers and waiters who wanted to be sommeliers. Some have drifted to other cities around the country and a couple of us are Master Sommeliers. While the study was the goal, the thing I gained the most from was all of the talk in-between, about pricing, customers, ideas, goals. For this reason, I always recommend that sommeliers join groups like this.
Similarly, trade-tastings offer great networking opportunities. Frankly, I find these tastings challenging. With all of the wines and the crush of people, it can be difficult to get through the bottles you want to taste. This is when you see everyone in your city, from retail to on premise.
Same goes for food and wine events. These are my favorite, as sommeliers from all over the country converge for a weekend of work and debauchery. At these events sommeliers often work for free, but have a chance to taste some stellar wines and gain insight from the leaders in the business. The consumers at these events are also some of the top in the country. It never hurts to bring big spenders back to your restaurant after connecting with them at these events. The best part, however, is the after-parties. The wines are ridiculous and it is amazing the things you can learn about your own industry at 3am.
Photo Credit: fredchiang