By Jim Boyce | I figured writing a story about Beijing sommeliers would be easy. Meininger’s Wine Business International (subscribe here) sent me a few examples of top-ten lists for New York and Sweden. It seemed like a simple matter of using those lists as a guide for covering the local market.
I was wrong. The optimism of a wine scene with phenomenal growth in areas such as imports, online sales and course attendance doesn’t fully translate to sommeliers.
For one thing, their numbers are limited.
“There are three, maybe a maximum of five, full-time sommeliers in Beijing, those focused solely on wine,” said Weiley Lu of Wine Room. “And I don’t think there will be many more soon.”
For another, so is their power.
“Even if you offer something nice, the sommeliers don’t have the power to add it,” said Vicente Muedra of importer Sommelier International. “They don’t want to upset the system.”
The hours are long and the pay relatively low, and that inspires sommeliers to leave for other jobs or to move up the ladder, to restaurant or food and beverage manager, where there is more power.
That’s not to say the scene lacks potential. Trade people are flocking to courses, such as those by the WSET. And annual competitions like the Junior National Sommelier Competition draw over a thousand applicants. It’s just that it hasn’t translated into a thriving sommelier profession in Beijing just yet.
At least that’s what I found in doing this story. Among the trade people cited are Bruce Lee (Summit Wing), Dorian Tang (ASC), Frank Hao (Tavola), Hans Qu (Cuatro Sol), Ignace Lecleir (TRB), Kerry Qin (Rosewood), Larry Yang, Li Meiyu (Park Hyatt), Lu Yang (Shangri-La), Lynne Chen (TRB), Max Chong (Peninsula), Vicente Muedra (Sommelier International) and Weiley Lu (Wine Room).
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