It Takes A Village – The Support System of ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training Program

Written by Jared Gniewek
Intensive Sommelier Training Program Student

I am blessed to have support from many different avenues as I stumble through the ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training Program. I couldn’t imagine going it alone with the sheer amount of information we need to absorb and engage with. Wine is the quintessential rabbit-hole that gets deeper and deeper the further in you explore.

My family, employer, friends, students and faculty at the school create a support system from which I’ve benefited in some vital ways. Frankly, I don’t know if I could succeed on my own. The proverb is “it takes a village to raise a child” and I would extend that sentiment to myself becoming a pinned and certified Sommelier.

My family, who pushed me to begin the program, has truly been there for me. My wife has been the dutiful wine-widow as our schedules clash throughout the program. She hasn’t pressured me to drop hours at my day job or slack on my studies to spend more time with her and the cats and the endless streaming entertainment which haunts all our homes nowadays.

My Aunt, whom I saw at Christmas, received a Coravin as a gift. It was bonus wine tasting time while I showed her how to operate it (prime that needle folks!) and got to dig into a pretty elegant Burgundy 1er Cru followed by a brassy Napa sledgehammer.

My employer at the wine shop has adjusted my schedule to accommodate the class as well as allowing me to have anything in the store at cost so I can expand my palate without breaking the bank (and make me a better hand seller to boot). He has even allowed me to run tastings in the space with some of my fellow class members participating.  Five of us got together on a Sunday, just a few weeks ago and I pulled (at cost) 6 typical wines from France and set up a blind tasting right in the store. It was a great exercise for all of us who felt overwhelmed. Plus we had some laughs, which always help lock in content!

Speaking of my ICC classmates, we have been setting up events and been in constant communication through a messaging app one of my compatriots set up for us all. Keeping abreast of each other’s feelings on the pressures of the program and being able to reach out to each other has made the experience far less daunting.

The ICC faculty has made their availability clear but also that we need to be doing these types of things outside class in order to succeed. Wine must become a lifestyle for the months of the program. (Oh no! I’ve gotta devote myself to something I love! The DREAD!)  I try to keep it on my mind always, and part of my habits daily. This village is pretty rockin’!

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How I Got the Job: Rachel Coe Shares Her Somm Story

After my graduation from the ICC in December 2014, I began looking for jobs in the area as a sommelier. Not sure exactly what I wanted to do with my certification, but having experience in both front and back of house in restaurants, I visited the ICC to get some guidance. Thanks to the career adviser, Nicole Harnett, I was pointed in the direction of Rosewood Sand Hill and Madera restaurant in Menlo Park, a five star resort and fine dining restaurant.  I began in February 2015 as the Lounge Sommelier, the more casual side of the operation. Thrown into the fire of having to learn a 98 page wine list with over 2,300 different labels (that also was a Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence winner), there was no other option except to pick it up – fast!  With three great mentors working above me (wine director Paul Mekis, and sommeliers John McDaniel and Julie Sundean), I learned my way around the cellar and wine list quickly. At Madera, our wine team is extremely fortunate to be able to taste a great number of wines on our list, sometimes even with the winemakers themselves. These tastings proved invaluable in moving forward with me career.

rachelcoe_hm-450x300Three months into my job at Madera I met chef Genaro Mendez, who was in the process of opening his own restaurant in East San Jose, The Creek Eatery. Wanting to expand my horizons and responsibility with a new restaurant, while still keeping my position at Madera, I agreed to be a consulting sommelier & beverage director.  My responsibility was to create a wine list to complement the menu consisting of wood fired pizza and various globally-influenced dishes. For 14 months I met with various vendors, tasted hundreds of selections, researched and ordered wine in anticipation of our summer 2016 opening. This was my first experience working as a wine buyer, where I was faced with the age old dilemma of selecting wine that the customers would recognize and enjoy, not necessarily my geeky somm selections. In June 2016 The Creek Eatery opened for business, featuring a wine list with over 60 selections from around the world.

In August 2015 I was promoted to a position at the Madera restaurant as one of the three full-time floor sommeliers.  Though my title is Madera sommelier, the Madera restaurant is just one outlet in a hotel that brings in over $4 million of profit from the resort wine program. I not only organize the cellar, staff training and tastings, I also help with wine selections in banquets, the lounge, in room dining and the pool bar & grill. Of course, at 5 PM every day my responsibility shifts to being present on the floor, guiding guests through our extensive wine list to select the perfect wine for their meal.

To learn more about the California Intensive Sommelier Training program, click here.

How to Become a Sommelier – Training & Certification

Becoming a sommelier requires intensive training that spans knowledge of the basics of grape growing and winemaking in wine regions around the world along with menu conception and service. Students who undergo sommelier training typically go on to earn sommelier certification.

Intensive Sommelier Training

As the only program approved by the esteemed Court of Master Sommeliers, International Culinary Center’s Intensive Sommelier Training program teaches students how to evaluate bottles of wine from across the globe — more than 300 are tasted during the 10-week course. At the end of the course, students have the option to take the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Introductory and Certified Sommelier Examinations — administered on-site at ICC-providing them with a valued international credential upon passing the tests. The International Culinary Center is the only school with 11 Master Sommeliers on its faculty, guiding ICC sommelier students through the Total Immersion curriculum. Students learn the necessary skills to become a sommelier through eight units covering essential topics from styles to service techniques. Sommelier students can choose to study at ICC’s campus in New York City or in the heart of wine country in California, in the impressive wine-tasting room at the Silicon Valley Location.

Sommelier Careers

After completing the Intensive Sommelier Training at ICC, students are qualified for a wide range of positions in the wine industry, in wholesale, retail or service.

Sommelier Certification

Becoming a professional certified sommelier requires experience, training, education and examinations. Specific sommelier certifications are available after six months of training, while advanced certification requires many years of study, practice and deep field experience in the wine industry. The Court of master Sommeliers is an independent sommelier examining organization that offers a Master Sommelier Diploma, Advanced Sommelier Certificate, the Certified Sommelier Certificate and an Introductory Sommelier Certificate. Students at ICC have the option to take examinations to receive the Introductory and Certified Sommelier Certificate.

Become a Sommelier

Let ICC’s Master Sommeliers prepare you with the specialized skills you need for a career as a sommelier through our Intensive Sommelier Training, with classes held during the day and in the evenings. Complete the form on this page to request more information on International Culinary Center’s sommelier training courses.