Have you watched the documentary Somm that came out in 2012? It’s an intriguing film series for anyone interested in wine culture or those aspiring to be sommeliers. The documentary follows four modern-day sommeliers preparing for the challenging Master Sommelier examination. But the more we learned about this art and skill through the show, the more we wondered about the first sommeliers and how it all started.
So, we dug a bit deeper, took a few sommelier tours, asked our highly skilled sommeliers what they knew, and put together this insightful guide on the history of sommeliers for you!
Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is A Sommelier?
So, in the most basic terms, a sommelier is a person who can be called a wine expert. Sometimes, these experts are also referred to as wine stewards, and they undergo years of training, learning, and practice to become professional sommeliers.
A sommelier knows their wine inside out. So, whether it’s information about wine ingredients, popular wine regions, wine types, or general information about wineries—a sommelier knows it all.
Where Did The Word Sommelier Come From?
So, there are a few theories about where the word sommelier originated. But most experts agree that it most likely came from some old French words like “sommerier,” or “somier,” or “bete de somme.” According to old French, “bete de somme” meant “a beast of burden,” and sommerier was a herdsman.
According to history, a bit later, the word sommerier evolved to “sommelier,” and the role became much more specialized, with sommeliers being responsible for French royalty’s baggage during travel. Also, in high French societies—in the homes of Lords—sommeliers were in charge of choosing wines, desserts, and table settings. They would also use their tastevin to test the lord’s wine and food for poison.
First Sommeliers In Public Spheres
In medieval homes, sommeliers were much like butlers, far from the image of the modern-day sommeliers we see. This is because their role in public establishments like restaurants started when modern-day-style restaurants were established after the French Revolution.
When chefs no longer had jobs in aristocrats’ households, they started opening their own establishments and cooking for the public. Because this was a wine-loving French society, these restaurants eventually needed beverage professionals and started hiring wine experts, i.e., sommeliers. At that time, they were typically referred to as wine stewards and did not enjoy the prestige they do today. This was because they were usually cooks who had failed and were therefore put to other tasks.
What Do Today’s Sommeliers Do?
Today, sommeliers enjoy a very distinct and respectable position in society. This may also have a lot to do with how their roles and responsibilities have evolved over time. A lot is expected from them, and most top-tier sommeliers do an impressive job in the establishments they work for.
If you’d like to learn more about sommeliers and how fascinating they are, we highly encourage you to take our sommelier wine tour at Augusta Vin. We’re one of the best wineries in Texas, offering everything from indoor and outdoor seating for wine tasting to our Hill Country Wine Club membership.
Give us a call for more details.