Sommeliers re-assess their role in the industry


While the hospitality industry struggled during the pandemic, it also had to re-invent itself. Sommeliers are a case in point, with many having to pivot to new roles within restaurants or jump ship altogether.

Jammie Drummond, senior editor and director of the Good Food Revolution website, which aims to raise public awareness on artisanal wine, beer, and spirits, says the shift was inevitable. “A lot of my sommelier peers were laid off and disgruntled to discover they were deemed non-essential by top-level management,” says Drummond. “So, many opened bottle shops.

He says Peter Pan was a classic example. The Toronto-based restaurant thrived by opening a bodega called Peter’s Pantry, which paired wines with meals.

Other sommeliers shifted into the consultant role and went into private wine sales. “Many sommeliers would be cherry-picked by a wine agency that was now advising private clients,” says Drummond. “With more well-off people having more disposable income, they often sought out artisanal wines through different channels – so they would be searching for wines not available through the LCBO, for example.”

He notes many sommeliers worked as private wine agents – the Toronto-based Grape Witches, for example, specialized in importing natural wines and gained popularity during and post-pandemic.

In fact, so much interest in artisanal wines was generated that Drummond says “the genie is out of the bottle. That can’t go backwards”, meaning that sommeliers continue to discover their niche customers and cater to them in both public and private venues.

Justin Madol, a sommelier and wine consultant at the Toronto-based Don Alfonso 1890, a Michelin-Star fine-dining restaurant, says a few sommeliers took the pandemic as an opportunity to further their education. “Once we realized that the pandemic would go longer than a couple of weeks, many people, such as myself, went back to the books to try to reach an even higher tier in the sommelier world.” Others pivoted to the online space: “Some people I know moved to creating wine inventory apps and avenues like that — but many became consultants.”

Madol also states that like so many other professionals, post-pandemic, many sommeliers sought to re-assess their role in the industry. “A lot of people took a step back after the lockdown to question how they wanted to participate in the wine business,” he says. “Working in restaurants is a different type of pressure and it’s long hours.”

While some sommeliers missed the in-person hospitality of a restaurant, others veered in a new direction: “Some went into retail, some went into wine education, and some began their own private wine business. It really depended on who you were and at what stage you were in your career,” says Madol.


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