Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association.

The Napa Valley probably competes with any place in the world for having the most sommeliers per square mile.

Calling yourself a sommelier, however, may not mean that you’ve been trained as such.

“If you are hired as a ‘chef’ you have the right to use that title on your business card, regardless of any training or certification you may or may not have,” said Matt Stamp, co-owner of Compline Wine Bar, Restaurant & Merchant, located at 1300 First St., next to the Cork Oak.

“The same goes with the title ‘sommelier.’ If someone hires you for that position, it’s accurate to use it.”

Sommelier is derived from a French word meaning “pack animal,” explained Stamp.

“It was the person in the kitchen who manned the pantry and wine cellar.”

At one point, people thought of sommeliers as snobbish old men, presenting themselves as wine experts. That perception has actually moved in the other direction.

“The term is trendy now and may be watered down a bit. Being a sommelier is all about being humble, hospitable and working for the benefit of the guest. Wine is only 10 percent of it. When we hire sommeliers at Compline, we let them know that they will also be busing tables, taking orders and doing everything else to make our guests comfortable.”

Stamp speaks with authority. He is a Master Sommelier, one of only 192 worldwide, and vice chair of the Court of Master Sommeliers, an international organization with the vision statement to “set the global standard of excellence for beverage service within the hospitality industry with integrity, exemplary knowledge and humility.”

The title Master Sommelier is achieved only after completing four challenging examinations. Most of the staff members at Compline, including those in the kitchen, have completed some level of the training for sommeliers.

Being a sommelier does not mean that you have unusually developed taste buds, but it does mean that you’ve learned to use them, the same way a musician might learn to “hear” music.

“Paying attention to the way things taste beyond liking or disliking it is something you just have to work on. Anyone can learn how to taste critically with training and effort.”

More than anything else, Stamp emphasizes humility and hospitality.

“You have to deliver what your guests want. Sometimes, that’s just a glass of wine without a lot of wine-speak.” Stamp is fiercely committed to offering guests a well balanced wine selection that includes many affordable options. That commitment extends to the food menu as well, where Compline shines equally brightly.

Stamp personally strives to know as much as he can about hospitality and delivering the best possible customer experience.

“The moment you stop learning or honing your craft, you might as well move on.”

Compline is open daily except Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to midnight.

See you downtown!

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Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association and also the author of “Lies That Bind – How Do You Arrest Somebody Who Doesn’t Exist?” Reach him at 257-0322 or craig@donapa.com.