Emma Farrelly on How to Make it as a Sommelier

The face behind one of WA’s most awarded wine programs, at the State Buildings, reflects on her career and what it takes to rise right to the top.

Emma Farrelly is no stranger to accolades. A winner of multiple awards for her work as director of wine at the State Buildings, she’s risen right to the very top of her profession. But before she was a nationally renowned sommelier, Farrelly was just a kid with a hunger to carve out a career for herself in an industry she was beginning to love. Here, she looks back on her early days, and what it took to make it big.

You’ve had a long career in hospitality, with a serious wine focus. How did you get into the industry and develop your understanding of wine?

I have been working in hospitality since I was 15. I got a job in a café and that was it… Hooked.

Then I had a bit of an epiphany at the age of 21 that wine was something I really wanted to understand deeply. It had always been around me (my dad is a huge lover of wine), so it felt quite natural to gravitate towards it after spending a few years in restaurants.

You’re director of wine at the State Buildings, working with several esteemed venues including Wildflower, Petition, Post and Long Chim. How would you describe your role now?

It’s fairly diverse – no two days are the same really. Being across the beverage program for such a large organisation has its challenges but ultimately it is a very rewarding role. My days are filled with anything from tasting new releases, to planning events… staff training, menu planning, sourcing products, stocktake and invoicing. Still moving plenty of boxes!

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt throughout your career?

I think the most important thing I have learnt is to never stop pushing to be better. I’m generally pretty hard on myself but I think it makes me better at what I do. Ask plenty of questions and always listen to your peers and colleagues. Hospitality is a team sport – you are only as good as the people around you.

How can someone who’s passionate about wine carve out a career for themselves in hospitality?

Find a great place to work where you can be surrounded by wine and passionate wine people. Learn as much as you can. Taste as much as you can. The joy of the hospitality/wine industry is that you don’t need to be academically trained to be successful – you need to be engaging, authentic and have a real ability to understand people.

How would you describe your 20-year-old self?

Incredibly hard working. I was the kid who stayed back to do extra work and turned up early each shift. I was hungry for it.

What advice would you give to your young self?

Ironically, to take more holidays.

What advice would you give to young people looking to follow a similar career path in 2022?

One of the biggest issues I see in this industry is the rush to “get to the top”. People starting out in hospitality need to take the time to learn from industry professionals and gain experience in all aspects of the business, before looking for promotions. Being a manager requires an entirely different set of skills than working a section on the floor or in the bar.