What It Takes to Become a Hotel Wine Director
Wine directors shouldn’t be confused with sommeliers despite the fact that the job titles are sometimes used interchangeably. While almost all wine directors are sommeliers, not all sommeliers are wine directors.
Becoming a wine director, the next step on the career path of sommeliers with proven expertise in wine service, food pairings and wine storage, is often the result of years of dedication and experience in the food service industry. These professionals may have begun their careers as humble bartenders or servers and worked their way through the ranks, studying to become a certified sommelier, then advanced sommelier and finally a master sommelier while on the job and may also have served in a head restaurant manager capacity.
But achieving a wine directorship with a leading hotel also requires a competitive personality.
These dining professionals have not simply earned the rank of master sommelier; they have also earned top marks in the national and international wine and spirits competitions hosted by prestigious organizations like the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs or the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale’s Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World. Their success may have also lead to invitations to serve as panel judges at such events. But there’s no hard and fast path to landing a wine director job.
Plus, just as professional experience and education backgrounds can vary among wine directors, so do their actual roles.
In some restaurants, the wine director’s job may be limited to managing the venue’s wine cellar, ensuring that it’s adequately stocked, making necessary orders when inventories are down and having an intimate knowledge of the varietals and wine houses that the restaurant carries. When a particular vintage is no longer available, they will need to know what to replace it with in order to keep customers, who regularly ordered the previous vintage, satisfied. Additionally, they may also conduct training programs and seminars as well as blind tastings for staff and new sommeliers.
However, there are also restaurants where the wine director is in charge of the establishment’s entire beverage program, including wine and spirits. So when it comes to wine, they may have responsibilities similar to the aforementioned. But they will also guide the direction of the spirits selection, perhaps opting to shine a spotlight on a particular liquor that is locally produced and securing partners with area purveyors not only to offer dining patrons the chance to sample spirits from various area distilleries and even other beverage-related ingredients from other local artisans like beekeepers, but also perhaps to work with these producers to train staff and even to offer related programming to guests. These types of wine directors may also be involved in developing a mixologist program for their restaurant and bar or they may simply work with their bartenders to create a signature cocktail menu for the establishment.
Additionally, they may lead educational and tasting events for guests and community members and can also host multi-course pairing dinners that the restaurant offers as a means of promoting the venue and at times, spotlighting a particular varietal, wine house or specific spirit. As can be the case with a restaurant’s total wine and spirits menu, these special dinners, too, require working closely with executive chef to develop a menu that will be holistically pleasing to guests’ palates.
Or in other words, will successfully drive sales for the restaurant because as with so many hospitality industry jobs, the measure of the employee’s success is ultimately how much profit they drive. So whether they are stocking the restaurant’s wine collection or placing orders with local distilleries, wine directors will also need to be conscious of costs as they also project profit margins. A wine director who is extremely talented at selecting obscure wines with hefty price tags, may find their job in jeopardy if customers are opting for more popular bottles while the hard-to-come-by inventory remains unmovable stock in the restaurant wine cellar. So successful wine directors must know their clientele, too.