Sommeliers possess unique knowledge and experience that allows them to pair food and wine with unmatched skill. While all must undergo rigorous preparation, few become credentialed by the renowned Court of Master Sommeliers, which sets the gold standard of excellence for beverage service within the hospitality industry with integrity, exemplary knowledge, and humility. Even fewer are black. Titus Green is one such extraordinary sommelier.
BLACK ENTERPRISE caught up with Green to explore what it means to be a sommelier and highlight his unique experiences in the food and wine industry.
Black Enterprise: Can you explain what a sommelier is and how you became one?
Green: An academic definition of a sommelier is someone who is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional (normally working in fine restaurants) and who specializes in all aspects of wine service, as well as wine and food pairing. In fine dining, the role is far more specialized—it’s not the same as a “wine waiter.”
I became a sommelier because I’ve long had a passion for exploring this ancient beverage and truly enjoy helping others to do the same. I fell in love the hard way—a trial by fire. Four years ago, I took a professional opportunity with Del Frisco’s Double Eagle steakhouse in Washington D.C. When I examined the wine list, I noticed it was two inches thick, 40 pages long, and approximately 2,000 bottles in variety! Intimidation set in almost immediately. So, instead of capitulating to fear, I decided to strengthen my knowledge and understanding of wine.
I began by researching the countless authors, articles, websites, and social media sites where I could absorb engaging content. I took my self-study seriously and applied myself. Eventually, I sat for The Court of Master of Sommeliers exam and passed it. But my enthusiasm for studying did not end with my pinning ceremony. I am a true believer in lifelong learning. Reading daily and applying the skillset makes learning fun and captivating for me. Along with that, just talking to friends and mentors about wine supports the learning process. I’ve also found that one of the most vital components of learning is finding opportunities to taste wine and develop my own playbook. This helps me to expand my understanding of terroir, tasting structure, and pairings as a matter of course.
What were some of your biggest professional challenges and how did you overcome them?
Some of my biggest professional challenges included finding ways to digest, dissect, and store wine-related information, along with allocating time to do all of the above. One of the ways I overcame these challenges was learning to ‘study’ the information in multiple ways: writing, drawing, singing, listening, reading, referencing pictures, maps, etc. Additionally, I found the best way to work with time constraints was to just keep absorbing knowledge on a daily basis and then set daily and weekly goals. I also found that working like I had a final exam each week was a solid technique that helped me make excellent use of my time.
We’re assuming you have access to a great deal of wine. About how much time do you spend tasting during the week?
It takes me about 2 minutes to fully feel like I have tasted or grasped a wine. That said, I usually end up ‘tasting’ and enjoying a few 6-ounce glasses during a focused wine study session. I love wine, so I will taste anytime I get the chance, which amounts, on average, to approximately 2-3 hours per week. Sometimes it’s in a classroom format, other times it’s more or less “on the fly” in more casual settings for only a few minutes. I specifically take time out each week to taste and blind taste wines with colleagues, which gives me access to 40+ wines per week.
Have you ever felt different or been treated differently as a black man in this industry?
There have been plenty of times where I did not feel differently, where I’ve felt completely comfortable in my own skin as an accomplished expert in the room. There have also been other times where I have certainly felt awkward and uncomfortable—like I was an anomaly. What I have learned over time is to approach cynics (and the internal critic) this way: Once I get suited-up, nothing else matters. I leave my pride (and doubt!) at the door and let the knowledge, skill, and experience do all the talking.
What’s your best advice to someone interested in becoming a sommelier or entering the food and wine industry in a professional capacity?
I’m in love with what I do. If you have a passion for something you love, don’t waste time thinking about it. Do your research and pursue it. If wine and food are what drive you, find places and people who can inspire you and push you to new heights. Opportunities in wine are virtually endless and with so many facets and ways to explore it, there is a place for almost every conceivable hospitality professional. D.C. is growing as a foodie city and making leaps and bounds toward becoming a wine capital, so if you’re in the area, you’re going to be inundated with opportunities. Also, remember that there are vast resources available, inclusive of literature, courses, and websites that you can leverage to get a head start on your wine lover’s journey—today. Take advantage of them. Most people don’t. Cheers!