A Sommelier, Winemaker, and Oenologist walk into a bar…

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No, this is not the setup to a joke. There is a lot of confusion as to the actual difference between a sommelier, and winemaker or oenologist. Though they all work closely with the world of wine, they play separate roles that are often intertwined – hence the confusion. Let’s lay it all out here.

Whats the Difference Between a Sommelier, Winemaker, and Oenologist??
photo Ewout Paulusma

What is a SOMM (Sommelier) ?

The word sommelier finds its origin in the French language, from the word somme, which was originally the person tasked with caring for load animals as they carried goods from place to place. In our case, this would be the animals tasked with carrying mature grapes on their way to the cellar.

The word has evolved over time, and our modern Sommeliers are a far cry from humble animal caretakers.  The modern sommelier must know how to describe and sell the spirit of the wine itself. Sommeliers are found in hotels, restaurants, wine shops, cruise ships, wineries, and even running private wine tours. Their vocabulary will be vivid and palpable; often recommending food pairings and giving advice to clients based on their unique palates.

To stay educated and keep their own palates informed, sommeliers try a lot of wine, spirits and craft brews. They give their opinions, write notes, and decide which wines should be found at their restaurant or added to the selection on hand. They are the bridge between the world of the wineries and the consumers.

Yet Sommeliers are found in near every region. There are sommeliers for beer, spirits, tea, coffee, cigars, even water! A Sommelier is an avid fan of their craft, and turns that passion into art for others.


What is an Oenologist or Winemaker?

Broken down, the word Oenologist comes from the Greek word Oenos or Eno, which is everything to do with wine; and –logy, which of course means “the study of”. So in reality, an Enologist is one who studies the science of everything in the world of wine. We have simplified the term to be “Winemaker”, though that does little to explain how much these people do for the bottles we love.

The role of an Enologist is a little more in depth than that. The Oenologist is the person in charge with the science of wine. They may take a look at a readout of the chemical components which make up certain flavors in wine and decipher it to create their next batch. This is no small task. Imagine looking at an Excel spreadsheet filled with various compounds and their percentages and then deciding on the flavor of an entire batch of wine from that information. Impressive stuff. And it is just one part of the job. 

In order to ensure their information is correct, they must care for the plants like no other. The Enologist must live on or near the winery to keep an eye on the plants. During harvest time especially, this means long, toiling hours of making sure everything is just right. An Enologist will monitor the acidity levels and sugar content of the grapes regularly, to know exactly when to pick them. It may not seem like much, but the span of just a few days can create an entirely different wine.

In the case of the comparisons between a Winemaker or Enologist and a Sommelier, one thing is for certain – they have all dedicated themselves to the world of wine. At SommTable, we know the feeling. We are dedicated to bringing the world of wine, craft beer, and spirits that much closer to home with a platform like none other. Explore the nearest bottle, request a tour, and get to know other enthusiasts in your area with ease. Find out more today by creating your free profile.

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