News, Culture and NPR for Central & Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

On The Map: Odd Jobs - Sommelier

Maybe you’ll get home after work today and relax with a glass of wine. For some - some would say “lucky” - people, wine isn’t an escape from the work day. It IS their workday.  

Max Cobb concludes his On The Map look at Underappreciated Jobs with a chat a sommelier.



If your knowledge of wine hasn’t advanced much beyond Boone’s Farm in high school, Amanda Danielson may have something to teach you. She is a restaurant owner and sommelier.

Now, being a professional wine taster might sound like the cushiest job ever, but Amanda said there’s a lot that goes into it.

“So when you are an active and working sommelier we have to know the whole world of wine, and beer, and spirits and everything else but with Trattoria Stella being primarily italian, we’re italian specialists that’s what we do. So we have the breadth of knowledge as far as taking that first step into the entire world of wine, but then going very very deep into italian wine because it’s an italian restaurant.”

Danielson owns Trattoria Stella. It’s located in Traverse City. Her other restaurant, The Franklin - also in T.C - carries a more universal selection of wine, as well as more Michigan made wines.

She said Michigan’s weather dictates the kind of wines that can be made.

“Being a cooler area we tend to be more of a white wine area dominated because white wines are able to ripen more so than many red variety’s and this is very general statements there’s obviously exceptions to everything.”

Danielson said being a sommelier isn’t just about finding good wine. It’s about finding wine that’s good with your meal.

She said some wines can bring out flavors in foods you may have never noticed before, or they can simply complement a meal well.

I asked if she had a favorite wine, the short answer was: that depends.

“It depends entirely on my mood and I like a wine with a story, and I think it’s a business of relationships and so I like a wine where I have a relationship to the person who made it, or the area where it comes from, or the first person that I drank that particular wine with, and I think really in terms of those relationships and that’s what’s most important to me.”

Danielson said what she’s eating and even the weather influences her choice in wine.

She said her relationship with wine goes way back. Danielson’s grandparents were immigrants, and she said. food culture was important in her family.

“Even when we were kids it would go by age we would get a finger in the bottom of a glass, and then another year went by and we would get two fingers and then three fingers and by the time we were 16, 17 we had a full glass of wine with dinner, but it was always with dinner at the table and as a result we all grew up with a great deal of respect for what we were consuming.”

Even with wine practically in her DNA, Danielson said she initially thought she wanted to work in creative writing. But the wine beckoned. She said growing up with an appreciation for fine dining and wines inspired her to learn more.

“Like I said it encompasses everything, I am that person that has the attention span of a gnat, but I like also to go down every rabbit hole and I feel like with wine and fine beverage in general, the rabbit holes are infinite it’s like being on the internet, and that started before the internet was even a thing.”

It turns out, not all sommeliers are created equal. There are different levels to a sommelier’s expertise. Danielson passed the advanced sommelier examination in 2007… did we mentions, there are sommelier exams.

“There’s extremely high standards to even be able to sit the exam, and the rigor of study just the material you need to be able to absorb everything about geography, anthropology, geology, viticulture; it’s everything I mean it’s just amazing in addition to be able to blind taste wines effectively, that really informs your ability to deliver excellent hospitality.”

Danielson said master sommelier is the highest level she can reach, and she’s not there yet.

She said there is only a one percent pass rate for the Master Sommelier exam. Just preparing for it is a full time job. She took the exam once, and failed.

She said while she would like to attempt it again, but now is not the time. She said too much of her time is devoted to her restaurants and family, but she said she would like to try the test again when she retires.

Danielson said the more you learn about wine the more you realize you’ll never know, and that’s what makes it so appealing to her.

“We open windows for people to explore a part of the world, and you can explore a part of the world through a bottle of wine. A snapshot of a time and a place and a culture and a people, and if you’re picking your wines right then a bottle of wine can be that.”

People like Amanda Danielson look deeper into what the rest of us might see as a simple commodity. Her knowledge and passion shows us that stories can be found in the strangest of places, even in a bottle of wine.

Danielson reminds us that all jobs deserve recognition, and it’s her hard work that puts Michigan sommelier’s On The Map.