One of the best parts about living in the heart of Arizona wine country is that I get to talk with the best wine makers in the state on a regular basis. Last night I had the chance to talk with Keif Manning of Keif Joshua Vineyards after a local service organization meeting. We were talking about Celebrity Cruises and the subject of sommeliers came up. He seemed a bit underwhelmed when I told him that Celebrity Cruises has over 3500 trained sommeliers across their fleet of ships. He shared with me that his experiences with land based sommeliers had been anything but helpful. Most the the sommeliers that he has encountered had been pretentious “know-it-alls” who only wanted to sell the wine that suited their own tastes not that of their customers. Coincidentally, I had just watched and episode of Food Network’s Restaurant Steak-out where the sommelier was actually doing a disservice to both his employer and customer. Hidden cameras showed that he was argumentative with the customer and interested in pushing his own tastes on others rather than helping them find something that they liked. Wine sales can make or break a restaurants profitability and this man’s snooty attitude and condescending tone were driving down sales by making customers unhappy with their dining experience.
Contrast Manning’s experience with a few land based sommeliers and the Restaurant Steak-out sommelier with the Celebrity Cruises sommeliers who are not only trained in wine knowledge, but also highly trained in customer service. They approach the sommeliers job in a friendly, consultative way. We noticed this when we took our second Celebrity cruise. Our assigned sommelier suggested that we do a wine flight the first night of the cruise, a mini tasting of 4 reds and four whites. During my tasting the sommelier paid attention to my comments and learned what I liked or didn’t like about each wine. During the rest of the cruise he was able to use that experience to help us select wine with dinner every night. During our Trans-Atlantic cruise on the Celebrity Summit, we attended our first “Round The World” wine tasting event. Our dinning room sommelier accompanied us to several of the stations to get our input into which wines we liked and didn’t like. Again, he was able to us that knowledge to help us find the perfect wines we would enjoy with dinner. On one of our cruises, we ordered an Italian Borolo, and the sommelier took the time to make sure that we knew what we were ordering. Borolo is a big powerful wine from the Piedmont region of Italy that is often very rich in tannins. For some it can be a bit overpowering, and the sommelier said that he had some customers send it back in the past because it wasn’t their style of wine. We reassured him that we had often enjoyed this wine, especially during our trips to Italy so he was safe serving it to us.
Not only are the Celebrity sommeliers well trained in customer service, but they back that training with extensive wine training. We were impressed that during our recent “Round the World” wine tasting we were able to ask questions about the different wines offered at the tasting and get informed answers. They could tell us about the entire production process with notes about many of the aspects of wine making including the types of barrels used, (oak or stainless steel) the climate and soil of the grape growing region, and type of grape and other interesting information about the particular wines. All of this knowledge always comes with a friendly smile and a customer oriented attitudes. The Celebrity Sommelier team members come from all over the world. Some come from wine growing areas like Croatia, Italy, and South America. Others have started as part of the bar tending staff and completed their wine training and certification as Celebrity employees. No matter what their back grounds, we have always found that their training in both wine and service have made our experience with them overwhelmingly positive.
For those of you who have negative experiences in the past with snooty sommeliers who are only interested in showing you how much more they know about wine than you do, a Celebrity Cruise with their personable staff will be a welcome change. For those of you who have cruise on other lines where the wine service was marked with a lack of information and service errors, a cruise on Celebrity would provide you with a much more enriching experience.
(CruiseOne Sonoita is offering an Arizona Winemaker’s cruise on the Celebrity Silhouette Feb 16th, 2014 with Karyl Wilhelm of Wilhelm Family Vineyards and Sonoita/Elgin Arizona. Karyl will be bringing her Arizona made wine along on the the cruise and those booked in this exclusive group will be able to participate in exclusive wine tasting events during the cruise. For more information contact CruiseOne Sonointa at 520-310-0396 or visit www.empirecruisetravel.com)