Master Sommelier Fred Dame. Ever thought about being a sommelier? Getting paid to tell people what wine they should order with dinner – that seems like the perfect job for someone who loves wine and food, right?
Not so fast, says Master Sommelier Fred Dame, America’s most famous sommelier, and arguably one of the greatest. The skills required of his profession don’t come naturally to most people.
“My experience is that probably during my entire 30-year career of doing this, I’ve seen maybe three or four who were truly spectacularly gifted. Male or female, it doesn’t make any difference. But the majority of people that we teach really have to work at that skill. We have very few natural tasters; most of these folks are people who, through training and tasting, condition themselves to be successful.”
The two “Somm” films showed that the profession has become hugely popular in the U.S. Has the market reached saturation? Wed asked Dame Are there too many somms now?
“I don’t know,” he answered. “When you dine out, are you always happy about the wine? There’s always room for talent and quality.”
Fred Dame was a pioneer
Dame was a pioneer. He was the first American to break into an elite field that was always dominated by Europeans. He served a term as president of the Court of Master Sommeliers Worldwide, a feat never before achieved by someone from the U.S.
He’s achieved some other impressive honors. He was the first person ever to pass all three parts of the Master Sommelier Examination in a single year. His high grades won him the Krug Cup of the British Guild of Sommeliers in 1984.
The world of wine has changed completely since Dame started in the 1970s.
“Back in the ’70s, the biggest sellers were Wente and Blue Nun – sweet or off-dry wines – and big Bordeaux. And that was about it. It’s been a pretty amazing run, and a couple of very important things happened along the way. André Tchelistcheff [a Russian-born winemaker and wine-industry adviser who was one of the first quality wine producers in California] really changed the course of California wine; over a 20-year period everything improved incredibly.”
Winemaking is more of a global business now, which has improved quality in Dame’s opinion. “Go to a good retail store today and think about the options you had even 10 years ago compared to today. It’s night and day.”
Dame credits globalization. “I think that cross training – Americans training in France, Frenchmen in New Zealand, South Africans in Italy and so on – brought consistency and knowledge to the industry worldwide. The sharing of technology improved. And the public’s interest has grown.”