A Look at Matthew Fosket’s Journey To Becoming a Sommelier and His Tips for Anyone Considering The Certification.
People often romanticize becoming a sommelier—the lifestyle, the cuisine, the travel, and, of course, the wine.
You’ll tour the world’s premier wine regions, drinking the best that each destination offers—soaking up culture, techniques, and history from winemakers and grape growers alike, deepening your respect and appreciation for the wine you drink.
Sounds like a pretty rad job, but most people don’t consider the journey to becoming a sommelier.
It’s not for the faint of heart, and it’s certainly not all travel and gourmet food.
It’s hard work, dedication, and long hours of intense study and training for tests on tasting, theory, and service.
Matthew Fosket, Certified Sommelier and Wine Director of RedBird in Los Angeles, California, shared his journey to becoming a sommelier and any wisdom he’d like to pass along to somms in the making.
Matthew’s first unlikely step began with painting the fence outside a new restaurant, The Painted Lady, in Newberg—a small town in Oregon’s wine country.
He performed odd jobs around the property during construction and, once open, was asked to be a part of the team.
A naturally curious person, Matthew went about the job soaking up any and all information related to restaurants, and he soon became an invaluable member of The Painted Lady team.
“No matter what position it was, I was paying attention,” said Fosket about his steady rise through the ranks. Allen Routt, chef and co-owner of The Painted Lady, would give him books about restaurants from around the world, and he absorbed everything.
While still a server’s assistant, his focus began to pay off.
“All the servers were asking me what wines they should recommend to tables. It wasn’t that I knew much; it was just that when we talked about wine, I had a memory for it. I just cared—I thought it was a cool world.”
Matthew quickly became a server and then went deep into alcohol study, and not just on wine. Growing up, there was zero alcohol in his family, so everything was new and exciting. He’d buy a bottle at a time and learn its flavors and history.
Then, because no one else at the restaurant took the initiative, Fosket began creating cocktails for the menu and learning more about wine. He took full advantage of living in Oregon wine country by going to wineries to discuss and drink wine.
One day, Jessica, co-owner of The Painted Lady, asked Matthew if he’d like to take the Intro Quarter Master Sommeliers test. He agreed without really knowing what it was.
“The first time to took the test, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I should not have taken this test.’ I was not prepared at all.”
However, when grabbing his stuff to leave, the sommelier testers asked to speak with him. They immediately told him it was apparent he hadn’t studied, to which he wholeheartedly agreed. But they wanted to share with him that he outperformed everyone on the service exam.
“They told me, ‘this is what you need to be doing. You’re really good at it; you just need to study, get some direction and find a community.’”
Matthew took the advice to heart and started studying eight hours a day before shifts at The Painted Lady.
It took two years, two more attempts, countless hours of studying, and a lot of wine before he could pass the Certified Sommelier test.
A Day in the Life
Today, Matthew’s time is filled with meetings, tastings, inventory, managing the floor staff, and ordering wine for RedBird’s five event spaces and Vibiana, a cathedral-turned-wedding venue/event space.
Keeping the wine list appealing (which holds an impressive 900 bottles) is a daily journey, and he started it from scratch. RedBird liquidated most of its wine inventory during the pandemic, so Matthew had the difficult but fulfilling task of building a wine list from the ground up.
It gave him the unique opportunity to practice what he feels every sommelier should strive to achieve—to offer great wine that is affordable to everyone, not just people with deep pockets.
“We have very expensive wine, but what I really focus on is middle-of-the-road prices. If you want to spend $80-$150, we have a lot of really great wine. It’s stuff that I’ve bought from secondary markets, from private collectors—it’s really interesting wine that you can drink for not that much money.”
Advice For Aspiring Sommeliers
We asked Matthew what advice he’d give to a budding sommelier.
“To do it correctly, it’s a very long process—and that’s not a bad thing. By being willing to put in those hours, to study, to learn, to travel—that is how you learn about wine. It’s not about taking a test. It’s about the knowledge that you’re gaining.
“The people that you look up to, they didn’t just read a book and say, ‘great, now I know everything.’ They’ve dedicated so much time and passion to it that it feels like second nature. It’s hard for everyone to learn it.”
Matthew has another piece of advice—find a community.
Even though he grew up in Oregon wine country, the area was sparsely populated, and he had difficulty connecting with other wine lovers. He eventually found a tasting group of three other people, all of whom were trying to get certified.
“We all were in the same boat; we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have any master sommeliers that we could ask questions—we listened to podcasts, but that was about it. We didn’t have any sort of outside influence.”
Ten years later, the group is still connected, supporting each other as their careers progress. Finding resources can be difficult, but they’re there if you look for them. Track down like-minded people, even if they’re at the same skill level, and drink and talk about wine.
With dedication, passion, and the right education, becoming a sommelier is an achievable goal for anyone who loves wine and wants to turn their passion into a successful career.