Zachary Byers

Zachary Byers

Head Sommelier at Beckon

Consistency is key and the process is more important than the end goal. If you commit to making at least some improvement every day – no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential at the time – you’ll eventually get where you ultimately want to go. Whether you’re playing sports, studying for an exam or going for a job, too many people get caught up in the idea that it’s a competition with others, when it’s actually just a competition with yourself.

I didn’t understand that the hospitality industry was the right path for me until I found the correct lens through which to view it. That lens had to be personally and academically challenging, and offer an avenue for career growth. That lens turned out to be wine. Despite a long career in hospitality in one way or another, I wasn’t really cognizant of the sommelier profession until early 2015.
The challenges to existing in this industry long-term are many and relentless. The job can be physically demanding, hours can be long and it doesn’t always give the freedom for a lifestyle that corresponds with a significant other, or even a social network outside of hospitality. Since work days can stretch to midnight or the early morning hours, staying sane means capitalizing on the time you have before you get to work. I find that I always need a physical challenge to keep my body happy, and a mental challenge to do the same for my brain. For me, those things are running and studying for CMS (Court of Master Sommeliers) exams. If I can take care of those things, I feel in balance.
The hospitality industry is all about taking care of other people. This should be obvious. What might not be obvious to everyone is that you’re never going to be able to genuinely tend to others if you don’t take care of yourself first. If you can’t find a way to fill your own bucket, you’re going to spend the next 10, 12 or 14 hours at work thinking about all the things you didn’t do for yourself, instead of being present for your guests and excelling at your job.
The sommelier world seems to love knowledge, minutiae and experience, and all of these things are certainly important. That said, skills and knowledge are generally teachable, and experience happens with time. Attitudes and work ethic are very difficult to teach. I’ll hire the driven sponge with little expertise over the tenured somm who thinks they don’t have anything to prove every single time.
Thankfully, I don’t have to try too hard to find motivation to further my education right now. I’m still in the process of working through The Court of Master Sommeliers, so for the moment, not failing an exam is pretty good motivation!
Humility is one of the biggest skills to possess as a sommelier. We’re in the business of making sure other people have a good time, so we have to find a way to put ourselves last. It’s interesting looking at the wine certification world. On one hand, you have to have some amount of confidence or ego to even think you have a shot at passing something as audacious as the Master Sommelier Exam; on the other hand you have to be able to separate your pursuit of a certification from your day-to-day execution of service. I run into a lot of people who haven’t figured out the difference between the two. It may be self-evident, but an overwhelming passion and drive for wine is an absolute requirement. The world of wine is too daunting to be casual about and if you’re not always trying to better yourself, you’re probably falling behind.
I think it’s valuable to keep in mind that education is not a linear journey. It’s impossible to study a topic or region of the world once and understand it in its totality; you revisit it over and over again. You learn something new about history or weather patterns or geology and when you circle back to the region in question, you understand it in a different way, always trying to complete the picture.
I derive a lot of inspiration simply from the idea that I always want to better myself. Every day that you wake up is a new opportunity to get better at something – as a person, as a sommelier, as a husband – and we only get so many of them, so it’s best to make them count. I’m not perfect and I miss the target on my fair share of days, not doing anything particularly productive, but I love having a goal to chase.
I’m a wine book junkie. They’re incredible resources you never outgrow them! To encompass the general scope of wine, where it comes from, how it’s made and why it turns out the way it does, the following resources have a ton of range: The World Atlas of Wine, The Oxford Companion to Wine, Understanding Wine Technology, and The Guildsomm Compendium.

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