Why did you go to Sommelier School?
What is the application process like?
Describe a typical day at Somm School.
What courses does one take?
How were your instructors?
The school I attended has the highest number of master sommeliers teaching so that really sets it apart and gives you an advantage since master sommeliers are the ones who administer the sommelier exam. There are so few master somms in the world (last I heard there was only 236), so it really is the most prestigious title given in the wine world, so they can be pretty intimidating!
One of my teachers was in the documentary “Somm” and the others were sommeliers at top restaurants or teaching around the world, so they really are rock stars in the wine world. It was really nice to have such prestigious people at the front of the class. It was mind-boggling how much information they have and how steeped they are in the wine world. Thankfully, they were incredibly supportive and you really felt that they wanted you to pass the exam so that helped ease the nerves.
Were there tests along the way? How is the curriculum organized?
How was the final exam?
You first have to pass the intro level exam, which is a multiple choice exam. If you pass that, then you can move on to the sommelier exam. And the sommelier exam is comprised of blind tasting, wine theory as well as service–and you need to pass all three to pass the exam.Some folks feel more comfortable with the service portion if they’ve spent a lot of time in a restaurant, others prefer theory. I was incredibly nervous about the service portion because you have to wait on a master sommelier at a table as though they’re in a restaurant. They ask you lots of different questions regarding what they should eat, what they should drink, cocktails and what’s in them, the price point of certain wines, what wine to pair with certain foods, etc.
Lastly, there’s the wine theory portion which covers such a vast amount of information that can be pretty challenging, but at least you only need 60% to pass. The 60% pass rate shows just how difficult it is to actually pass the test!
What did you not know about wine going in that that you learned while you were there?
Everything! Throughout my life, I had taken a wine class here and there and gone to wine tastings but the industry is changing rapidly given all the new wines that pop up everyday so there were lots of new things to learn.
Studying and discovering wines from Greece or Austria, for example, was really interesting because they’re not generally offered on a wine list–so I didn’t have much exposure to those varietals. Also, although I’ve worked in restaurants, I didn’t have much in-depth knowledge regarding how to pour properly, creating a wine list, how to properly store wine, etc. Walking into the class, I didn’t realize how critical service and understanding the restaurant side of things would be to the class but that’s all part of being a sommelier.
How long does it take to become a sommelier?
It’s really up to you and your experience level. The exams are administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, which is a very elite organization that promotes excellence in the restaurant and beverage service. In order to be eligible to pass the Certified Sommelier exam, you first need to pass a Level 1 exam, then you can take the certified sommelier exam.
Anyone can take the exam, so it really depends how prepared you feel walking in. You can take a 2 day prep course for the exam, but if you’re not in the wine industry or haven’t taken extensive classes in advance, it’s very difficult to pass the exam with just the prep course. In my case, I knew I needed the help so I decided to move to Campbell, California and take the Intensive Sommelier Training Program at the International Culinary Center for 10 weeks. (There’s also another British organization that can certify you called WSET – Wine and Spirit Education Trust.)
What’s your favorite memory from Somm School?
Definitely learning about something that I was passionate about was a real luxury. Also, being able to do so with a group of strangers that ended up becoming friends makes it that much more rewarding.
My favorite memory, however, was hearing my name called out and hearing that I passed the exam. The master sommelier put the sommelier pin on my jacket and I nearly cried with joy! I truly wasn’t sure if it was going to happen. So that was a huge personal achievement. But I studied my butt off, so it was nice to be rewarded with that tiny little pin!
What advice would you give to someone thinking about Somm School?
It’s really hard, so you have to go into it taking it very seriously. There were a few people in my class who thought that being a bartender or working in restaurants would be enough to help them get through the class, but when they failed the first test, they realized they had to treat this very seriously.
You review information very quickly and move on to the next region, so you have to be prepared to study a lot on your own time and create study groups because having other students doing wine tastings together and testing one another was incredibly helpful.
Also, if you hate flash cards, this course isn’t for you! I have hundreds of them and stayed up all night testing myself.
Any last words of advice for wine lovers?
Even though I took the class, I’m not in the wine industry, so if you love wine and want to learn more about the world of wine, the course can still apply to you!