26-06-2017 ~ 5 Comments

Observations from the annual GuildSomm survey

If you’ve not seen it, GuildSomm has posted its 2016 salary survey which anyone, even non-subscribers to the site can view. They create this by putting out a poll that people answer anonymously on the site and then they compile the information. Is this scientific? No, but it does provide an engaging snapshot into the world of the wine business.

Something else to take note of is that GuildSomm’s (learn more about it) members are predominantly in the United States so the poll skews heavily towards that country’s current trends. I point this out in case there are sommeliers working in Spain who wonder where their $60,000 USD annual salary is given they usually earn about 1/5th that.

It’s interesting to compare these surveys year by year as they’ve done it for 2015 as well as 2014 and you can see that the median income has remained unchanged. It’s one of those things that made me point out back in December of last year that we’ve probably hit “Peak Somm” and I wouldn’t be surprised if this were to actually drop a bit in the future as there seem to be no end of people prepared to “sommify” themselves these days much like there have been countless people going to culinary schools and flooding the chef job market. For the time being, it does appear you can earn a respectable salary in the wine trade, albeit there’s probably the caveat that you need to live in expensive cities like New York or San Francisco to make that happen.

To me, the most interesting statistic is the gender pay gap. Sadly, it exists here as well, but as shown in this survey, women earn 89% of what men do and this has largely held steady for the last three years of the surveys. Nationally in the US, the figure is 80% so it seems the trade is slightly better but again, why is it the case that this is a problem at all? Women have shown themselves to be at least equal if not better in terms of wine ability so this is just ridiculous. That and given two people of the same qualifications, I tend to prefer women wine servers as too many men feel themselves to be God’s gift to wine and are essentially thrusting their junk at you in terms of forcing what wines they like upon you. It’s a massive generalization of course, but honestly I don’t encounter cocky women sommeliers in the same way as I do men. Women need to be paid at least as much as men, end of story.

There are additional nuggets such as “Education” has had a boom in terms of income, being a Master Sommelier allows you to have a solid day rate, and experience does count for something. These shouldn’t really be a shock as the other tidbit that’s quite interesting is the rather small difference in pay between WSET 3 and WSET 4 certificate holders. I know plenty of people who have gone through/are doing these programs and the difference between the two in terms of work is massive but it seems employers view them as nearly the same much like how the Introductory and Certified Sommelier titles are quite similar in terms of earnings.

GuildSomm isn’t just for sommeliers and there are many people from all over the wine trade using it (take a look at the Job Titles) so I wouldn’t say this is simply an issue of the WSET being sorta irrelevant to people who are working in the service industry. I would say that it comes more from people not really understanding the differences between the various levels and it’s why many people who probably shouldn’t be getting sommelier titles are in actuality doing it anyways as the name is so much easier to articulate despite the fact I know many people who are “sommeliers” who haven’t work a day of their lives on the floor.

I would posit that this survey is an excellent starting point and I wish that there would be more such as this, conducted independently, as it would help a lot of people realize where the point of diminishing returns is when pursuing wine education titles that are, let’s face it, very expensive for the general population.