Women are flocking to the sommelier profession, reinvigorating the field and smashing old stereotypes. A new generation of female sommeliers have succeeded in breaking down the entry barriers to this traditionally male-dominated industry, shattering its old boys’ club image and infusing the ranks with trailblazing female sommeliers. Kriti Malhtra is a lone woman sommelier working with Pullman Hotel Aerocity, a French group of Accor Hotels in a candid talk with SENIOR JOURNALIST SITARAM MEWATI

In India, one can rarely find a lady sommelier. How did you land in this male dominated bastion?
Passion does not distinguish gender or industry. And I am passionate about wines. My gender never posed a problem in this industry. Nowadays some restaurants have looked specifically for women but men still hold most of the top wine sommelier jobs in India and throughout the world. The time is changing and one can see a phenomenal growth of women wine sommeliers in India.

What is the role of a sommelier?
The role of a sommelier is about more than just tasting wine, though that certainly is an element. Aside from helping restaurant patrons to select an appropriate wine to have with their meals, sommeliers work with the management to help build wine lists that are consistent with the culinary style of the establishment, and are also responsible for the meticulous storage and care of wines. More senior sommeliers also help restaurants, hotels, resorts and vineyards with financial management for their wine products, including pricing, purchasing and sales monitoring.

Were you inclined to do the job or was it an accident?
Before getting into the wine industry, I was a senior cabin crew with Kingfisher Airlines for seven years. Passion drove me to progress further on the road of wines. My interest had evolved during my flying days, as I was inquisitive about the wine labels. Curiosity always made me read more about the world of wines.

There are few institutes in India for wine sommeliers. How and where did you learn?
There are few institutes meant to train Sommeliers but the number of wine sommelier institutes is growing day by day. I am a WSET Level 3 qualified with distinction (WSET- Wines and Spirits Educational Trust U.K.). This course helped me in understanding the wines in details. However, the learning never ends and I strongly believe that I am still learning and understanding my wines. Many sommeliers are able to work in the industry without certification, as long as they have had a significant amount of career experience, which is often the case for foreign sommeliers who move to Canada. My journey started with understanding about the labels, grapes, countries etc. But the most interesting part of this journey is preparing the palate for professional tasting. Every time I taste a wine and write my notes, I learn something new.

Can you elaborate about your journey as a Sommelier?
I dream wines, I think wines and I drink wines. I am a great believer that you must never stop learning. One must never be embarrassed to ask for help and many successful people will be ready to mentor an aspiring professional if they feel that person is genuine and serious in work/study principles. Finally, it is important to get the support of your family, colleagues and fellow professionals. I have been fortunate to have a very supportive family. I have been very fortunate too that many professionals have helped me along the way.

Is wine really growing in India?
Absolutely, wine is growing in India. If you see 10 years ago, there were hardly any wines or any culture around it. But now, there are so many concepts around it. There is mushrooming of wine clubs which host wine appreciations, wine talks, also wine tourism and growing progressively. Since consumer awareness is on the rise, most hotels have sommeliers on board. Besides having passion for wines and studying for it, I think it is pivotal for sommeliers to keep tasting. It is very important to make one’s palate for tasting wines professionally.

Is there any disrespect in this profession?
Disrespect in any profession is a combination of various factors like culture, work environment, conduct of the person, profile of customers, etc. Fortunately, our country is on its way for cultural transformation, and if other factors are favourable then it should not allow any disrespect in this profession.

What is the future of wine sommelier in India?
The future of wine sommeliers in India is very bright. Gone are the days when many hotels hired expat sommeliers, now change is clearly visible and most of the wine sommeliers in leading hotels are Indian. There is a lot of career mobility for sommeliers, but many begin their careers with other responsibilities. As with other restaurant staff, sommeliers have a physically demanding job. Aside from being on their feet all day and night, sommeliers are often responsible for stocking shelves, unpacking boxes and contributing to the manual labour required by the restaurant.

Are there any professional institutes for wine sommelier in India?
Yes, there are many institutes which are based in various part of India that includes KBR School of Wine, Mumbai, Sonal Holland Wine Academy Mumbai, Tulleeho Portals Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, Institute for Wine and Beverage Studies New Delhi, Manipal University, Karnataka, Yashoda Devi Wine Academy Bangalore, Christ University Bangalore, United Spirits Ltd, Bangalore and Wine Academy of India, Chennai to name few. Besides, there are many professional institutes across the globe who are conducting courses for wine sommeliers.