Of Wine, Goals, Dreams, and the Art of Getting Better

Like many Sommeliers around the country I have been studying and working towards a goal for many years. This goal is the certification of Master Sommelier, one of the most difficult professional certifications in the world. To achieve this goal one must first pass the Introductory Class, the Certified Sommelier Examination, the Advanced Sommelier Examination, and then be invited to sit the Master Sommelier exam. The examinations are in three parts, blind tasting, theory, and practical (which is a service examination). I started this journey in 2006 when I took the Introductory class. In 2011, I passed the theory and blind tasting portion of the exam, and had two more tries to pass the practical (service) portion. My third try was last week, and I came up short. This means that I reset, and next year have to take all three portions again. It would be easy to be disappointed in this, and to a degree I am, however, I find myself more inspired by the process and by my fellow Sommeliers on this path than I ever have been before.  Let me tell you why…

To start, if it was easy to achieve a goal like this, would I even want to go after achieving it? The answer for me is a resounding “no.”  The reason I work hard for this goal is because I want to become great at what I do, I want to be a masterful taster, a masterful Sommelier on the floor, and have a mastery of knowledge when its comes to the world of wine, spirits, and beers. No matter how hard I work, there is no guarantee that I will ever pass. All I can do is work harder to get better, and focus on a mastery of myself. If passing is in my future, then it will be all the more meaningful for the struggle and the hard work, if it is not than I am hundreds of times better at what I do than I ever could have been with out trying to achieve this goal.

Then there are all of the amazing people that I have met so far through this process, people who are truly inspiring, many who have become good friends.  We see each other at competitions, or on trips to wine country, and we all share that goal, we all share that drive, and we all push each other, in hopes that at least a few of us succeed in reaching that goal.  Although I did not pass this time around, two out of the four who passed (from a total of 63 sommeliers that sat the exam) were my friends and their success really inspires me.  My study partner for the past two years, Emily Papach, passed on her second try, she is a wickedly intelligent and talented person, there was no doubt in my mind that she was passing this year.

Then there is my friend Christopher Bates, who is the General Manager and Chef at the Hotel Fauchere, a Relais & Chateaux in MiIlford, PA, who also passed, it was his fourth attempt at the exam.  He reset last year, like I did this year, and he went on to win the Best Young Sommelier in the World Competition, the TopSomm competition (the Guild of Sommelier sponsored national sommelier competition), and then pass all three portions last week.  Lest I forget he did all of this while running a restaurant and hotel, and having a winery in New York, http://elementwinery.com.  If all goes as planned, we will be offering his wine at the Fearrington House (it is seriously delicious). When they passed I was so happy for them, but at the same moment I looked around the room at all of the Sommeliers waiting for their results, or having just gotten their results, and I felt pretty honored just be in the room. I was in there with the best of the best from all over the country, I thought “it is awesome just to be here.”

So for now, back to the books, back to the tastings, and back to working everyday to get that much better, and work towards mastery.

3 Comments
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  1. Way to go Max! I am also impressed that you are able to take the exam. I know you have the ability and will soon see your name on the list of Master Sommelier. Good Luck next year!

  2. Max, My Best to you in the Future with this High Level Of Testing….Your selections of wine brought into Fearrington Village are DIVINE ! This article was very inspiring and encouraging and educational !

  3. I am so inspired by your spirit, Max. Your accomplishments are impressive, and your inclusion in this very elite group is a testimonial to your abilities, but what’s even more remarkable is your spirit. Your drive and passion for what you do are more significant than any exam or credential. You’re doing what you’re doing for all the right reasons, you love it, and you can’t ask much more than that. Your life has been enriched by your striving, and those of us who benefit from your knowledge (and your winning personality) benefit as well. Thanks for all you do.