Morning Mix


Tristan Walczweski becomes first Sommelier Level III in a Grand Rapids restaurant

Posted at 11:24 AM, Dec 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-14 08:48:34-05

When you're at a restaurant and want to pair your meal with a nice glass of wine, it doesn't hurt when there's an in-house expert to help with that decision. Tristan Walczweski, general manager at Bistro Bella Vita, has recently earned the title of Sommelier Level III, making him the only sommelier of this stature in Grand Rapids.

Tristan joins the Fox 17 Morning Mix to talk about this recent achievement and what it means to be a sommelier.

A sommelier is a wine steward, also known as a knowledgeable wine professional who typically works in a fine dining establishment. A sommelier should have formal training to be able to specialize in all aspects of wine service, wine and food pairings, and wine storage.

After Walczweski accepted an entry-level job at the Bistro, he decided to pursue certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers. In October 2016, he successfully completed the Introductory Course and Examination through the Court, a two-day course followed by a 75-question written exam.

He spent nearly six months preparing for the exam, gradually understanding the winemaking countries of the world, the grape varietals, and regions that defined them, along with the laws and geographical influence that made each unique.

As he prepared for the Certified Sommelier Exam (or Level II), the stakes became higher, the exam became three parts: a timed written theory examination, a timed blind tasting of four wines, and a service practical which in its essence was a test of grace under pressure. They created a tasting group that met weekly, exercising the tasting grid which is a deductive process of blindly assessing a wine, each week working to develop their nose and palate and understand ultimately what makes a wine tick.

After an invigorating exam, Walczweski received his Certified Sommelier Diploma in November 2017. He also received a scholarship with his diploma, which helped finance a trip to Europe to study in some of the finest regions in France and Spain.

Walczweski had little intention of pursuing the Advanced Sommelier Diploma prior to his Certified Exam, but he came this far, so why stop now? During the four years between his certified Sommelier Exam and Advanced Exam, Walczweski was in a blind-tasting group each week, spending many days off at a coffee shop, and late nights hunched over wine books.

The process of the Advanced Examination became much more complex: a required entrance exam, followed by a three-day intensive course in Dallas became the first step in the process. In fall 2019, he completed the entrance exam and application to sit the Advanced Sommelier Exam.

He then got a firm commitment date to the exam in October 2021 in St. Louis. Divided over three days, the exam consisted of a more intensive version of the previous exam: a service practical including proper sparkling wine service, proper red wine decanting service, cocktail service, along with an array of other related tasks; a 25-minute timed blind tasting of six wines; a blind tasting of beers and spirits coupled with a written exam; a timed written theory examination covering the world of wine, beer, cider, dessert wines, spirits, cocktails, and sake.

After several nerve-wracking hours, Walczweski received my Advanced Sommelier Diploma at the Ruinart Reception in St. Louis, Missouri.

Walczweski isn't stopping at Level III though, he's going a step further to pursue the Master Sommelier Diploma in 2023.

Bistro Bella Vita is located in downtown Grand Rapids. Learn more about their recent reward and browse their menu at