The quest to become a Master Sommelier, the highest distinction a professional in the fine wine and beverage industry can attain, requires the same commitment, perseverance and years of training as any professional sport. The final test requires candidates to prove their skills in Theory, Service and Tasting. It’s the Ironman Triathlon of sommeliers. Very few succeed.
“The whole thing is really intense,” acknowledges Thomas Price, head sommelier at The Metropolitan Grill. “The athletic analogies get made constantly. But that’s the only thing I can compare it to. You put so much into it and you know going in that in all likelihood you may not pass.”
Price became a Master Sommelier in 2012, one of six in Washington. That’s fewer than California, which has dozens, but more than New York (5) and Oregon (1). Of the 201 Master Sommeliers worldwide, 133 of them are in North America.
Filmmaker Jason Wise followed his subjects for two years, capturing the competitive all-night tastings with peers, the rigorous practice sessions with mentors, and the candid observations of the contenders, their wives and girlfriends.
Of the 50 who take the exam in the film, only six pass. I won’t reveal how the four stars fare, but you don’t have to be a wine geek to get caught up in the suspense and emotion as they pursue their goal.
It took Price just under nine years to advance through the four levels leading to the three-part final exam. He considers it the culmination of his whole career, he said in an interview last weekend on KIRO FM’s “Let’s Eat.” “The process is character building. It takes a lot of personal fortitude. Obviously the wine knowledge is an enormous component, but you really learn a lot about yourself on the journey.”
Though Price isn’t in the film, he knows the four somms featured very well and thinks the director did a good job capturing the friendships that develop.
“We seem crazy. I watch that movie and say man, I need my head examined. But when you’re in it, it’s the camaraderie that you build, and the nature of the quest. I think Brian McClintic in the film said it best. When people tell you about something impossible, some people say ‘wow that’s impressive,’ and some people say ‘wow I want to do that.’ For whatever reason, that became my attitude toward this thing.”
SOMM is showing June 21-27 at the SIFF Film Center and will also be available June 21 on iTunes. Opening night screenings include a wine tasting at Ten Mercer. During the run the restaurant is offering a Blind Tasting Contest. Purchase a mystery wine selection for $13 and if you correctly identify the varietals, you’ll win a $13 gift card.
Listen to the complete interview with Price on “Let’s Eat” here: http://mynorthwest.com/?nid=574&p=1065&n=Let’sEat