When it comes to wine, a certified expert is perhaps a club’s most valuable asset.
When a club has a certified sommelier on staff who can act as an authoritative figure on wine, members tend to listen to and trust his or her suggestions, whether they’re looking to purchase a $200 bottle or a $5 glass.
“With a ‘somm’ on staff, members can put a face to the wine program,” says Randall Bertao, who, as General Manager of Los Altos (Calif.) Golf & Country Club, has the unique distinction of being both a Master Sommelier and a Certified Club Manager.
“Members like to connect to the experts at their club—the chef, the pros, the general manager,” says Bertao. “When they bring friends in to dine, for example, they always ask the chef to come to the table to say hello, because they’re proud of being connected with someone who’s so skilled at their craft.
“In comparison, the beverage side is often overlooked,” he continues. “Members may know the club manager, bartenders or servers by name, but they don’t look to them as experts in wine.”
By having someone on staff who has undergone intensive wine training to become a sommelier, Bertao believes that clubs can build trust with members and help guide them toward wines that suit their tastes and preferences.
How to Become a Sommelier
If you or a member of your staff have the desire
The Court of Master Sommeliers:
The American Sommelier Association:
At Los Altos G&CC, Bertao isn’t the only somm on staff. Andrew Sparling earned his level-two certificate and serves as the club’s primary sommelier. He is in charge of the wine service for all a la carte dining periods, and oversees staff wine training, pairings, and inventory. Sparling also helps Bertao with tastings and with menu writing. Additionally, 12 servers at Los Altos are level-one certified sommeliers.
“It pays to have more than one person on staff who can help guide members when they have questions,” says Bertao. The most important characteristics of a sommelier, he adds, are a passion for wine, excellent communication skills, and a great sense of hospitality.
“Being a somm isn’t about showing people how much you know,” he says. “It’s about using your knowledge to help them find what they’re looking for.”
Operationally, having a sommelier on staff helps with all of the elements that surround an excellent wine program, including:
- having the right glassware;
- making sure that glassware is properly cleaned, prepped and polished;
- making sure all tools and decanters are ready for use;
- knowing how to properly decant bottles;
- being proficient in all aspects of wine service, and able to teach, train and lead others;
- building lists, maintaining inventory, and guiding tastings and pairings.
“Keeping the somm focused on hospitality and service is critical,” says Bertao. “He or she needs to know and understand that how they serve three iced-teas and a glass of house chardonnay to table three is just as important as how they serve a fine $300 wine to table six.”
Every Wednesday at Los Altos, Executive Chef Gary Roth puts together a themed buffet, and Bertao and Sparling set up a table with a variety of wine pairings for members to first taste, and then purchase.
“We offer wines by the glass or by the bottle during this event,” says Bertao. “It’s a great chance to get in front of the members, and we typically move four or five cases. But what’s most rewarding to me is when members come up to the table where we’re serving the wine and say, ‘Hi, Randall. So, Andrew, what do you recommend?’”