For Michael Bonaccorsi, drinking on the job is a necessity.

As sommelier at Spago in Beverly Hills, he is responsible for procuring wine for the world-famous restaurant, as well as crafting the wine list and advising customers on what wines to pair with what foods.

The Chicago native got a business degree at the University of Illinois. But by graduation day, he headed to California to be close to the business.

After a stint selling wine in the Bay Area, Bonaccorsi worked as a sommelier at various restaurants in San Francisco and then L.A. before landing at Spago six years ago. Along the way, he picked up a diploma from the Guild of Master Sommeliers.

Question: How did you first get interested in wine?

Answer: When I was in college and was working in a restaurant in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. that, for the area anyway, had a pretty good wine list. I was basically busing tables, but there were a few people there who knew about wine and I just got interested. There was a good wine shop across the street and this waiter captain and I used to spend half our tip money checking out French, German and California wines.

Q: When you first started out as a sommelier, did you ever get funny reactions from diners because you were so young at the time?

A: I suppose. Some people did comment and still do a little, but a lot less than they used to. I'm by no means the youngest one out there anymore. There are a lot of young, upcoming, new-breed (sommeliers). A sommelier is not an old guy in a tuxedo with a tastevin (small saucer for tasting) around his neck, any more than your average restaurant chef is an old French guy wearing a toque and kerchief around his neck.

Q: Do you ever wear a tastevin?

A: Never in my life. Don't have one.

Q: What's your typical day like?

A: I work 12 to 12. At a place like this, we're doing $3 million of wine sales (per year) and almost $5 million in beverage sales, so a lot of that is dealing with the beverage department as a profit center in the restaurant, taking care of the accounting side of that. It's managing the products through the restaurant, through the pricing controls, following up on credits with distributors, meeting with vendors sometimes, keeping the wine list accurate and up to date. It usually gets printed on average every 10 days.


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