Restaurants & Bars | November 11, 2020 11:16 am

Within a Reeling Hospitality Industry, Sommeliers Are Hit Particularly Hard

Who needs a wine steward when restaurants are simply trying to stay open?

sommelier pouring wine
Sommeliers have been particularly hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MesquitaFMS / Getty Images

The hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard during the COVID-19 pandemic — and possibly no one profession more so than wine sommeliers.

“We see wine directors bartending now, and the role of wine director/sommelier isn’t existent right now, ” Jahdé Marley, wine consultant for Indie Wineries, told Wine Spectator.

With shuttered restaurants, reduced indoor dining, smaller staffs and a pivot to take-out and delivery, it’s not a surprise that there’s less need for someone to curate a wine list to go along with a customer’s dining experience. This year on-premise sales of wine will only be about 50-60% of what they were in 2019, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Before the pandemic, there may have been upwards of 300,000 sommeliers in this country. Now, many of those workers are pivoting to online tasting groups and classes.

The hurried return of indoor dining probably won’t help employment numbers too much — and may actually lead to continued hardships not just for wine stewards, but for everyone. As sommelier James Sligh notes, “You may have a lot of incentives to power through [feeling sick] and pretend that it’s not happening. Indoor dining has been a real reliable way for [Covid] case counts to tick up.”

If you’re looking to help, you can always see if your favorite local restaurant’s sommelier is online and offering a virtual tasting or class. You can also pressure your local government officials to support a comprehensive aid package for restaurants and come up with solutions for restaurants to operate if indoor dining isn’t available. New organizations like the United Sommeliers Foundation can also provide updates and occasionally offer ways to help, such as fine wine auctions.