Wine, Flash Cards, Cut Garden Hose, and The Documentary “SOMM”

Posted on: June 24th, 2013 by

Make-your-own sticky noteWould you spend five years studying for an exam you only had a five percent chance of passing? If you’re trying to become a Master Sommelier, of which there are less than 200 in the world, you voice your dream with one word: “YES”. My guest on the Wine Without Worry podcast is Jason Wise, Writer and Director of a documentary about preparing for, and taking, this exam: SOMM. (“Somm” is the American shorthand for “sommelier”. USA!)  He spent years following around four Master Sommelier candidates, and while we’re all rooting for them to do well in their finals (consisting of a three part theory/tasting/serving exam), you’ve got to see the movie to find out what happens. But I can give you a preview of our conversation and the film, which I screened at the Seattle International Film Festival, recorded over a couple beers at the W Hotel in Seattle. Here are a few things I discovered about the movie, Jason, and me:

    • Love esoteric, out-there aroma descriptions? You’ll find out what wines bring “freshly opened can of tennis balls” and “freshly cut garden hose” to mind. And how does “crushed hillside” differ from un-crushed hillside?
    • Fans of printed material versus iPads/Kindle will thrill over the amount of hand-written flash cards that each sommelier totes around. Literally thousands of them. And they get used everywhere from the bedroom to the treadmill.
vintage flash cards

Not the flash cards used in SOMM. But they probably couldn’t hurt.

  • I almost ended the podcast when Jason stated, “I don’t that that wine is that interesting as a subject.” But I took a long pull off my beer and let him explain.
  • I reveal that I’d choose hanging out with a girlfriend or wife over alone time with flash cards. A Master Sommelier I will never be.
  • One Master Sommelier used to lug a trunk of books with him on vacation to continue his exam prep.
  • We’ve both licked rocks. (In the pursuit of wine knowledge. Naturally.)
  • Jason is contemplating more wine-based film projects, based on his keen interest in history.
  • What do Master Sommeliers think of the film? Jason was nervous about their reaction.

I hope that is enough detail to whet your appetite. Now go slake your thirst and check out the podcast:

Wine Without Worry Episode 13 on iTunes: SOMM: A Documentary About The Hardest (Wine) Test in the World

Get SOMM on iTunes. Watch it at home so you can enjoy wine in a nice glass, rather than smuggling your rosé-filled flask into the theater. (Don’t look at me. I was just drinking a paper cup full of chilled pink coffee.)

“Voice Your Dreams” photo courtesy Quinn Dombrowski. Vintage flash card image courtesy julielion. Thanks to Jason for the beer and the conversation, SIFF for the free ticket, and the W Hotel for the posh conference room to record the episode. And Samuel Goldwyn Films for the use of this photo from the film:

somm documetary jason wise

These guys are studying their asses off.

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4 Responses

  1. Helen says:

    Only 5% chance of passing? My god that’s super hard to accomplish

  2. Do you know what the pass rate for Master of Wine is? I thought they were on a par in the difficulty stakes although assessed in very different ways….now not so sure.

    • Jameson says:

      Don’t know about the Master of Wine, but I’m sure it’s a a similarly, soul-crushingly low percentage.

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