Sommeliers are not rockstars. Winemakers are!
After the smash hit documentary Somm came out in 2013, a spotlight was thrown on the trials and rigors of becoming a Master Sommelier. More so than the spotlight cast on to an under appreciated part of the hospitality and wine industries, it thrust a group of young would-be Master Somms into the limelight and into stardom. All of a sudden everybody wanted to be a sommelier, and restaurants were treating their somms with more and more influence, giving them greater stature in the business.
All of a sudden we started treating sommeliers like the rockstars. They became famous as we hung on their every word and wine pairing. Restaurants built themselves around superb wine lists curated by masterful sommeliers who were creating art with every pour of the glass. Thats great for them, because to become a sommelier is a calling that demands devotion and a continued study of a subject that is constantly changing from year to year. But lets break down what a sommelier does in its purest form. They help to create or curate wine lists, and they help diners find the right pairings to go with their meals. Their job is to make sure you enjoy your wine, and the restaurant makes money and keeps the wines moving. A great sommelier will have a wine on the list for everything and everyone, a wine for every occasion that may occur at a dining table, and wines at price points that will make everybody happy.
There are many things you could compare the sommelier to, but I am sorry, a rockstar is not one of them. Sommeliers are curators, not creators. Sommeliers carry mountains of knowledge about wine and drinks, where they come from, their history, the rules determining their creation. They are more art historians, rather than artists. In the story of rock and roll they would be the radio deejays guiding you to new experiences with songs that break through the sonic barrier. They understand something you do not, but they did not create Sorry, but to call sommeliers rockstars is to belittle the true rockstars of the wine world.
As a friend recently mused during polite conversation, calling sommeliers rockstars is like giving credit to Rolling Stone for The Rolling Stones. We give credit to the people who show us the music, but not the people who make the music. That wine you love, was created. It was created with passion, with love, with blood, sweat and tears and those are the people who should be rewarded for it. The winemaker is the real rockstar because they are the artists.
Ryan Sharp of ENSO Winery in Portland, OR described the winemaking process as an art form, rather than a science. Managing the decomposition of grape juice is like manipulating the air flow through a saxophone. It is taking something that can occur naturally, and manipulating it into something beautiful. A breath becomes a sound, a rotting grape becomes a drink fit for a king. It becomes an art form that elicits great feeling, much like a song has an almost religious impact on a person's soul.
You need only to look at what the most renowned sommeliers aspire to. One of the most recognizable sommeliers of our time, Raj Parr is now a winemaker obsessing over the expression of the soil in his wines. Andre Heuston Mack, the founder of Mouton Noir Wine, mentioned that going from sommelier to winemaker was a way for him to express his creativity and put all the knowledge into creating beautiful things.
It seems kind of obvious to us that the greatest praise should befall the creator, not the curator or the critic. In the past few decades that is exactly what the wine industry has done, and it is time to take back control, show credit where credit is due, and launch a new way of thinking about wine. Bring the art back to wine appreciation and wine drinking, think about how it makes you feel and let it grab you by the soul. That is whole reason winemakers do what they do, they want you to enjoy their art so lets make them the rockstars they are.