Red or white? Cabernet or Chardonnay? What pairs well with fish, or chocolate, or beef tartare? In a world where billions of bottles are sold each year, we’re in desperate need of experts to guide us to the best fermented grapes out there. Luckily, help is just a click away. Meet Jan Bugher, sommelier and wine manager at Bluebeard (one of Indy’s most creative and revered eateries), instructor and educator in the ways of wine, and, thanks to an unseemly 2020, a tried-and-true content creator.
Before becoming one of Indianapolis’s most beloved wine experts, Bugher was introduced to the idea of becoming a sommelier when she learned about a series of classes offered at IUPUI on wine. She enrolled in the eight-course program and received her certificate in beverage management in 2008.
And yet, in the world of wine, a certificate is only the tip of the iceberg. “You start thinking you know a lot more than you do,” Bugher revealed, “and then you start to realize that there’s way more to it than you thought.” She started working at wine bar Tastings, sought out books and articles on the subject, and joined a tasting group to meet and discuss vino with other enthusiasts. When she learned about The Court of Master Sommeliers’ introductory exam, she signed up for a two-day course and test date in Louisville in 2010, uncertain as to what would come of it. Once again, she headed home with a certificate, this time verifying her proficiency in a wide variety of beverages— and in the world of wine, there is a wide variety.
Since her introductory exam, she’s continued to taste and expand her knowledge. She passed her Certified Sommelier Examination in 2011, a feat that few Hoosiers achieve when faced with a one-day, three-part examination, complete with timed tastings and demonstrations to perform. Today, Bugher curates and maintains an extensive selection of reds, whites, rosés, dessert wines and more as wine manager and sommelier at Bluebeard, a position she took in 2016. Any interested patron will find something to enjoy on the extensive list, which features over two hundred varieties. Don’t know where to start? Ask Bugher, who you’ll often find making recommendations to eager customers during dinner rush— or on Bluebeard’s social media, as a part of her digital series of talks with winemakers around the world, The Click-Away Sommelier.
The decision to test the waters of content creation came as a result of a new, virtual way of living in the midst of 2020. With tables empty and doors locked, Bluebeard and their sister bakery, Amelia’s Bread, worked together to create opportunities for community outreach through food, with curbside pick-up, online selections, virtual dinners and more. With no customers to partake, Bugher’s wine list became a retail inventory through Amelia’s website, and it was time to discuss wine in a totally new way. The idea to talk to vintners and vineyard owners around the world from the comforts of Facebook and Instagram Live was formed, and The Click-Away Sommelier was born. You can view past episodes of Bugher’s series on Bluebeard’s Facebook and Instagram.
Episodes have slowed since the return of in-person dining, but the sommelier hasn’t stopped her roll when it comes to new enterprises. Bugher started her Road to Somm program back in January, a six-month course that functions to prepare interested students to take The Court of Master Sommeliers’ introductory exam and give them a basis of knowledge within the vast landscape of wine. While the course’s first iteration was a completely virtual affair, both in-person and virtual options are being offered the second time around. It’s the ideal opportunity for wine novices looking to expand their proficiency and meet others with the same goals. “It’s a really good, well-rounded program for a novice to learn the basics,” Bugher explained. “From there, they can decide if they want to take [the exam].”
Road to Somm is a vehicle to promote wine education in Indianapolis, especially amongst traditionally underrepresented groups in the world of sommeliers. Bugher herself was one of the first women in the state of Indiana to pass the Certified Sommelier Examination, and has watched from the Hoosier state as the Master Court continues to change from top to bottom. When the New York Times reported last October that twelve men at the top of the organization were being investigated for inappropriate activity towards female candidates in the Master Sommelier examination process, the Master Court of Sommeliers began the process of selecting new board members. As more resources for education become available to those interested in diving into the male-dominated sommelier industry— the Road to Somm course, for example— Bugher hopes to reach audiences who haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore the history of wine and its intricacies. “I think people in so many other industries are starting to understand that there are women out there who are excellent at what they do,” the sommelier stated, “and we cannot treat them like we have in the past.”
And Bugher is excellent at what she does. That’s why she’s been breaking barriers for years, and continues to do so today. The “Road to Somm” is a bumpy one, but she’s mastered it, and hopes that others will find their way, too.
To keep up with Jan Bugher, check out her Instagram, and look for past episodes of The Click-Away Sommelier on Bluebeard’s Facebook and Instagram. Registration has closed for the most recent Road to Somm course, but keep your eyes peeled for future opportunities!