The Court of Master Sommeliers is one of the most exclusive societies in the world, with less than 200 people demonstrating a mastery of Theory, Service, and Tasting surrounding wine, spirits and cigars since they first administered a Master Sommelier exam in the UK in 1969. Over the course of two years, filmmaker Jason Wise filmed a documentary called SOMM that tracks Dustin Wilson, Brian McClintic, Ian Cauble and DLynn Proctor as they attempt to tame the grueling test in an effort to achieve glory, knowledge and prestige.
The film spans 100 minutes, but feels relatively fleet given the unique personality types of the leading men, the oddball wine lingo, and the stakes, which come across as surprisingly high, even though each “character” already has a professional wine career, and it’s not like they’ll lose their jobs if they fall short. Still, each girlfriend or wife has to contend with a never-ending parade of flash cards, late night Skype study sessions, and some stress inducing behavior, in addition to the full-time jobs of their significant others. The only moments that feel forced are the transitions between scenes, which inexplicably consist of exploding wine glasses.
On April 4, SOMM’s world premiere took place at Monterey’s Osio Cinemas as part of the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival, featuring a room full of raucous sommeliers, bags of truffle popcorn and free flowing Ruinart champagne. As Jason Wise said before the film rolled, “Pretty much everyone in the film is here and excited, and also very drunk.” People laughed when people used terms like “cat pee,” “granny purse” and “fresh cut garden hose” to describe wine, and sympathized at some of their comrades’ more vulnerable moments. Ultimately, I became invested in the cause of these high-flying wine professionals, and it was compelling to see who walked away with Master Sommelier credentials. To find out who grabbed wine world glory, watch the movie, which Samuel Goldwyn Films releases on June 21.