The Life of a Sommelier

Rajat Parr has lived a life that many dream of, working with one of the most well-known chefs in the United States, traveling the world and tasting many of the best wines ever produced.

But it is all part of a long journey that has led him to his current position as the wine director for the Mina Group, developing and maintaining wine lists for Michael Mina’s many restaurants in the U.S., including three in San Francisco.

While he now spends most of his time at RN74 in San Francisco, Parr also has developed his own wine label (the aptly named Parr Selections), helped to write a book with author Jordan Mackay and received two 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards nominations in the categories of Best Beverage Cookbook and Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional Award.

“It’s an honor to be nominated. I had no idea. To be nominated, it’s overwhelming just to think about it,” he said.

Photo Credit: The Mina Group

His book “Secrets of the Sommeliers: How to Think and Drink Like the World’s Top Wine Professionals” is a firsthand look at how Parr came to the wine industry, including learning his craft under the legendary Larry Stone, formerly of Rubicon in San Francisco. He said through Stone, he developed a number of relationships that continue to grow to this day, part of the close-knit group of sommeliers.

“It’s amazing, but it’s also an effort. You definitely want to build a team in your own restaurant, but you also want to have other associates, peers and restaurants,” Parr said. “You want to make it a point to set up tastings after work and learn together. I always learn from the people around me and you can also teach the young sommeliers, bring them up and show them the culture of wine.”

The book also looks at the normal day of a sommelier or wine director, which Parr said is a lot less glamorous than people may think.

“On a normal day, I come into to work at 10 or 11 a.m. and see what deliveries have come in, receive the wines, put the wines away and catalog them. Then there’s a tasting, either at the restaurant or off-site,” he said. “I start to get ready for service around 4 o’clock… at 5 o’clock, you go through lineup and talk to the staff about the pairings for the day or a different wine topic. At 5:30, we start service and that will usually last until 10:30-11:00. If you feel energetic, you can start working again in the cellar. It turns out to be a good 12-13 hour day.”

Photo Credit: The Mina Group

Parr said although the role of the sommelier talking about wine to customers is fairly new, the importance of the position is growing at many restaurants.

“Now you have a profession which is a big part of the restaurant,” he said. “It’s a revenue generator and in a big way, the voice of the consumer.”

And for those looking to get into the wine industry or just getting into wine in general, Parr has this piece of advice. “I think it’s very important to taste. It’s great to be able to read about wines. But you have to taste a lot of wines,” he said. “I recommend people go to where they have tastings or where they have wines by the glass and to taste these classic wines and really understand and form your own opinion. Because your own palette is the most important thing.”

And Parr said won’t rest on his laurels as he continues to search for new wines around the globe, looking for that next “wine epiphany.”