Becoming a master sommelier is a daunting task, and, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers, there are just 230 in the world – and one is Brian Koziol, Food & Beverage Concept and Development director for Disney Parks & Resorts, based at Walt Disney World Resort.
Disney has more sommeliers than any company in the world. To become a sommelier, there are four levels: Introductory Diploma; Certified Sommelier Diploma; Advance Sommelier Diploma, and Master Sommelier Diploma. At Walt Disney World Resort, more than 1,000 have been accredited since 1997 (mostly at the Introductory level). Koziol is the only Disney Master Sommelier.
We asked Koziol these 9 questions about the Disney sommelier program.
- Why is a sommelier an important part of the dining experience?
With all the diverse wine lists we offer in our Disney restaurants, the guests have many choices. The sommelier offers knowledge that enhances the dining experience. Some of our restaurants feature boutique wines . . . South African wines . . . products our guests may not know. Jiko – The Cooking Place at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, for instance, has an all-South-African wine list, and at Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, the wine list is all from the Pacific Northwest. The sommelier can help guests find a varietal, wine style or vintage that most matches something they are familiar with, and provide insight.
- What’s a Disney restaurant where you might not expect to find a sommelier – but you will.
A sommelier is a wine steward, a trained knowledgeable wine pro. We have wine professionals in many of our table-service restaurants with Introductory Diplomas – if there’s a comprehensive wine list, there’s likely a Certified Level wine steward certified by Court of Master Sommeliers. Olivia’s Café at Disney’s Old Key West Resort is a casual family restaurant where you might be surprised to find a certified sommelier – but we have one on staff.
- What role do you play in the training of the sommeliers?
I help facilitate training at both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort. Yearly we bring people together to receive certification and I lead that program. This year we’re establishing the new Flavor Lab at Walt Disney World Resort as the hub for future training.
- How does a sommelier enrich a guests’ dining experience?
Our guests are well traveled and sophisticated and love to have a good conversation about wine. Once cast members go through the training, they gain a great appreciation for beverages and take more personal pride in sharing the diversity of offerings. You are enlightened as you dine.
- What’s involved in the training of a sommelier that makes it such a specialty?
At the entry level we establish a foundation for how grapes are grown and wine is produced. We give a worldly tour of major wine-producing areas around the world, highlighting specific attributes that make each one different. We taste 22 wines blind using the Court of Master Sommelier’s deductive tasting method. It’s not only about wine; we cover beer, cocktails, spirits and sake. Everything goes back to an ability to articulate what makes an area or product special and how it can work with food and be served. The program becomes more intensified at every level, and the bar for a master sommelier is so high – the depth of knowledge and professionalism makes it very challenging. For me, it was a 10-year journey to Master Sommelier.
- How does training happen at Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort and Disney Cruise Line?
We’ve started training in the new Flavor Lab test kitchen at Walt Disney World Resort – but training doesn’t just happen in a classroom, it has to happen daily. Every day in our restaurants our managers and service staff are sharing knowledge about beverages in their program. At Walt Disney World Resort we have a lot of curiosity from national importers, wineries — people love to come to Florida to share their stories, so our cast members learn from the best-of-the-best wine experts.
- What’s the next Disney dining experience on the horizon where sommeliers will be integral?
Tiffins at Disney’s Animal Kingdom opens this year, and will feature South American and South African wines in a program that is special – we don’t have another one like it at Disney. The program will focus on environmentality: producers that focus on sustainability, organic wines, and bio-dynamic viticulture. Environmentality is a core value at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and this beverage program helps showcase that value.
- Can any Disney Food & Beverage cast member participate in sommelier training?
Yes, the entry-level certification is open to all Disney Food & Beverage cast members — Catering, Concierge, finance leaders who want to learn more than just the numbers analytics. Even cast members in Purchasing have taken the program. As long they work in any aspect of Food & Beverage, we embrace them.
- Red or white? Do you have an all-time favorite wine?
It depends on the day. I love wines from Piedmont, Italy, right now. But that could change – but Piedmont red varietals like Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto have a sense of soul.