Rob Hirst, Franck Moreau, Julia Sewell, Michael Engelmann and Brian Julyan.
Promising future: Julia Sewell with (from left) Rob Hirst, Franck Moreau, Julia Sewell, Michael Engelmann and Brian Julyan. Photo: Supplied

She's only been in the business for about 14 months but sommelier Julia Sewell has already outperformed many of her peers, becoming the first woman to dux the Australian Court of Master Sommeliers exams.

The court, which awards internationally recognised qualifications, recommends a minimum of three years' experience for sommeliers taking the certified-level course, the highest offered in Australia. But Sewell didn't let that discourage her.

Last week the sommelier at Melbourne's Virginia Plain restaurant won the Petaluma Scholarship to study for the advanced-level exams in the UK or US as part of her prize for being the top student for 2013.

“I never expected to do quite so well,” said the 23-year-old.

“I know a lot of people who sit this exam, some of them own restaurants and have been working in the industry for a long time and have many years more experience than myself.”

Sewell, who also studies anthropology at the University of Melbourne, says she's not entirely certain what her dream job would be, but she knows she wants to pursue a career in wine.

“I like that [wine] is a physical representation of authenticity … There aren't very many commercial products that can tie you to place and terroir the way wine does,” she said. “And at the moment I particularly enjoy being a sommelier. I really enjoy the customer service aspect of it.”

Australia has 454 introductory-level sommeliers, 187 certified sommeliers, nine advanced-level sommeliers and two master sommeliers – Franck Moreau from the Merivale Group and Michael Engelmann from Rockpool Bar & Grill. Master is the Australian Court of Master Sommeliers' top ranking.

Previous scholarship recipients include Attica's Banjo Harris Plane, the Merivale Group's Jarrod Mills and Richard Hargreave from Momofuku Seiobo.