Michaël Engelmann

Michaël Engelmann

Michaël Engelmann, Master Sommelier and Wine Director for The Modern of Union Square Hospitality Group in New York, shares his career timeline for up-and-coming talent.

In this industry, there are so many great opportunities. There are not many other jobs where you can work anywhere in the world. Being a sommelier is one of the few jobs that allows you to travel, see and do so much, and meet so many people easily. The opportunity to visit so many places makes me feel very lucky.

I stay inspired in this industry because I’m a competitive person. I think one day I realized that if others can do it, I can do it too. Why not go for it? It is a very competitive industry and even more so in New York. You have to want to always keep being better at what you do; you must continue wanting to improve. If you stop, there are many others who will take your place. It's a lot of work, but it pays off.
Everywhere I've worked I’ve learned and had people help me grow. One of the most valuable lessons I've learned through my experiences is "one mountain at a time". I think many people coming into this industry pursue wine director positions right away. I’ve learned to be a bit more patient and take it as it comes. Curiosity, when it comes to wine, is also very important. I’ve learned a lot from watching what other people do - what to do and what not to do. I’ve always asked a lot of questions.
There are good days and there are days when you have to try a bit harder. During the latter, I’ve learned to keep working and focus on finishing the day. Then go to sleep and the next day is a new day - every day is new and different. I’ve learned that you have to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes leaving work for just half an hour and getting fresh air really helps.
I always ask my team to reflect on themselves and use every day as a life experience. I ask them to talk to me about their last dining experience and reflect on what was great and not so great about the experience - I want them know the importance of the great work they're doing here.
In order to stay educated in this industry, I keep reading, tasting wine, asking questions, and visiting vineyards. I stay curious. I am more and more interested in knowing the why. I think it comes down to wanting to understand, staying curious, and being passionate about growth.
Where I started in Europe, it’s very old school and strict and you quickly learn to respect people, listen, and observe. You show up, work, and keep pushing. I also learned early on in my career that anyone can do it - It’s all about how much you want it. If I want to get somewhere, I need to look at where I am, what my strengths and weaknesses are, where I want to be, and what it will take to get there. When I was 18, I wanted to work at a great restaurant in Paris and I realized that I needed to speak English in order to accomplish that, so I moved overseas and learned English.
The most influential people in my career have taught me that what we do is not just a job - it’s a passion and it’s a lifestyle. We're a part of an industry where we work every night and on weekends. When it comes to a career in wine, and you’re enjoying it on your days off and reading about it voraciously, you do it because you absolutely love it. Wine is an obsession. If you really want to make it, you have to live it and breathe it.
I keep my team inspired and motivated by sharing my excitement. I love wine. It’s a passion and something that’s contagious. When your manager is excited about the wine and the food and the wine producers, his or her enthusiasm ends up being contagious.

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