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New movie lifts lid on Master Sommeliers

A new film about to be released shines a spotlight on the gruelling world of the Master Sommelier qualification – an exam less than 200 people have ever passed.

Somm: the four candidates

Somm tells the stories of Brian McClintic, Dustin Wilson, Ian Cauble and DLynn Proctor as they prepare for the entrance exam for the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Described variously as ‘the new rockstars’, ‘prophets’, ‘egomaniacs’, and ‘sickly gifted’, the four Americans go through ‘thousands and thousands of hours’ of wine tasting, wine theory and practice.

In scenes reminiscent of The Apprentice and dozens of other reality TV shows, Somm – as sommeliers are sometimes called in the US – shows them in the depths of despair, as well as approaching what they concede is a ‘brutal’ ordeal with masochistic relish.

‘Somm highlights not only their extreme level of commitment but the all-encompassing effect it has on their lives,’ Geoff Kruth, chief operating officer of the Guild of Sommeliers says.

The film also features interviews with some major wine producers, including Andrea Cecci of Tuscany, Hano Zilliken
of Saar in Germany, Paul Graf von Schönborn of Schloss Schönborn, Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, and Wilhelm Haag of Fritz Haag in the Mosel.

As to whether the four hopefuls are ultimately successful, nothing is being given away.

The film, directed by Jason Wise, does not have a release date yet, though it is slated to premiere on the East Coast. Wise has submitted it to the Tribeca and Edinburgh film festivals.

‘The acceptance rate [for festivals] is incredibly low but we’re hoping for the best,’ he said.

Wise remains enthusiastic about its potential. ‘I have been overwhelmingly surprised at the response we’ve had since the trailer was released, with over 15,000 unique page views within the first two days,’ he said.

In the UK, Master Sommeliers contacted by Decanter.com were positive about a film which may lay to rest some misconceptions about their profession.

Ronan Sayburn MS, wine director at Hotel du Vin, said, ‘Demystifying wine is good for the industry as a whole’ – although he firmly denied any pretensions to star status: ‘Maybe I feel like a rock star for about ten minutes when I’m decanting a bottle of Latour, but not at two am when I’m polishing glasses. In the Court of Master Sommeliers, we try to teach humility.’

Gerard Basset, Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, said, ‘I’m an aging rock star. There are certainly some parts of our lives where you are like a rock star, travelling a lot, visiting vineyards and working late at night.’

Watch the trailer here

Written by Adam Lechmere, and Amy Payne

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