We’ve got Canada native and recent Los angeles transplant Rachel Kerswell in the Lady Somm Style hizzy today. You can find her working the floor with grace and poise at Osteria Mozza. Seriously. She’s lovely.
How did you become a sommelier?
I was introduced to the possibility of working in wine when I was 25 years old. I was working in advertising, all the while hating my job, and had recently inherited a wine cellar of approximately 150 wines. At the time, not knowing much about wine, I decided to take a beginner class to get me going. It wasn’t long after that I discovered I had a knack for tasting wine and a serious passion for wanting to learn everything there was to know about it. I quit my advertising job that summer and started as a bartender while studying for my certified sommelier exam. Everyone thought I was crazy but my gut told me it was the best decision I had ever made. The rest is history.
What’s your go-to look/daily uniform for work?
A suit. But to keep it feminine I like to wear a pencil skirt with a matching jacket and a collared button-up shirt. It’s imperative I have pockets, as I need my wine-key, a pen, and a lighter at all times. My hair is usually pulled back into a simple ponytail or bun and I never wear jewelry, nail polish or much makeup. Not because I’m not allowed, simply because its not my style and I think it should be kept as simple and professional as possible when at work. Since I can work up to 10 hours on my feet, I wear the comfiest shoes I can possibly find.
Do you transition your outfit from daytime duties to nighttime floor action?
Most definitely! What a lot of people don’t see or realize is the grueling side of being a sommelier. I arrive at the restaurant around 1pm in the afternoon. Service doesn’t even begin until 5:30pm. That’s 4.5hrs where I am ordering wine and doing cellar work which includes lifting heavy boxes, auditing and sorting through hundreds of bins. Other tasks include changing pages in the wine list, setting up the dining room, administrative and computer work, and the list goes on… Lets put it this way, by 5pm my clothes aren’t as clean as they were when I walked in at 1pm. The part where we taste and sell fine wine in our dashing outfits is theromantic part of being a sommelier. The reason we all got into it in the first place 😉
What are the 3 things you can’t leave home without when heading to the restaurant?
1) Wine key2) Hair elastic3) Chapstick
Three things a somm should never do or wear?
1) Keep the geek-out topics between somm’s and not directed towards guests. I assure you most diners don’t want the low-down on the soil types and microclimates that a particular wine came from.1.5) Don’t wear perfume! I made this a half point because it gets mentioned so often but is SO important for a Somm to never do. We need to be able to smell the wine and not get it mixed up with some stinky perfume or cologne.2) Don’t be pretentious. It’s a big turn-off for everyone. Somms should be focused on remaining humble. The world of wine is a world that very few people understand and can easily become intimidating. We are there to help make drinking wine fun and approachable.3) If you’re a lady, please don’t show cleavage. Looks kind of tacky, no?
What wines on the list at the Osteria are really exciting you right now?
I’m loving the whites from the Alto Adige region. This is Italy’s most northerly wine region and a combination of German/Italian culture. Residents there are bilingual and many winemakers, like Kuenhof, Erste & Neue and Niedrist (some of my favorites) use more German varietals like Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer, Veltliner and Riesling. The wines tend to be pure, highly mineral, clean and fresh. For a country not yet known for their white wines, this is a region to try. They are also great food pairing wines.
What do you usually drink at the end of a shift, if anything?
Ha, right now, as I type, I am drinking that Niedrist Riesling I was just speaking of. But it’s usually a Manhattan.
If you want to watch Rachel school some dudes on how to order a bottle of wine on a first date, do it here. Couldn’t have said it better myself!