How hard is to become a Master Sommelier?

Hello everyone I would like to have an open discussions about how hard is to become a Master Sommelier.

Since the foundation of the Court of Master Sommilier in the 70's only 257 have passed successfully the exam and been acknowledge as Master Sommielier.

If we take a look back 40 years since the first exam towards today the wine world is completely different since then. Back in the 70's the world just started to heal from WW 2 devastating affects  and through the market still had boycotts, agriculture just re-started (as example Australia. the renewal of viticulture just begun) and simply less geographic areas have been asked, less regions considered as classics wines or to put it in short - a Master Sommelier required to know less (maybe even less then an Advance sommelier today?). 

On the other hand, back then to acquire knowledge in today terms can be consider "Mission: Impossible". Much less books, much harder to put hands on the latest info, wines and vintages. There was no people like Jancis Robinson, Fred Dame, Hugh Johnson, Gerard Basset, all of those who we, the young somms consider as Gods on earth. They didn't have anyone to mentor them. Today any beginner somm can just google and order from home in pajamas few books, get a membership in a website like this and to know the latest news. Much more approachable in one click distance.

In my opinion, even though the info today is much more approachable and much easy to acquire it is harder then the 70's. To able to know by heart all of this massive amount of info, a true passion is needed, because there is much more sexy jobs out there, with normal hours, high pay grade and much less exhausting then 50+ hours a week on your legs running around the venue and late night finish time.

What do you think? 

  • Gonna quote from one of my all-time favorite movies... A League of their Own.  Hopefully it is inspiring also.

    **Dottie (Geena Davis) quit the team right before the world series.  The conversation between Dottie and her Coach, Jimmy (Tom Hanks), has always been my go-to clip in hard times.  Here’s how it went:**

    Jimmy:  “Sneaking out like this…quitting…you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.  Baseball is what gets inside you.  It’s what lights you up.  You can’t deny that.”

    Dottie:  “It just got too hard.”

    Jimmy:  “It’s supposed to be hard.  If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great.

  • In all seriousness just ask the many brilliant wine professionals that have failed so many times that they were forced to give up for the sake of their mental health. Some of the smartest most accomplished people in the wine world have opted out of the MS exam. Passing the MS shows perseverance, an aptitude for studying minutia, insane self discipline (to the point of masochism), and no small amount of luck (in tasting). 

    God bless those that have done it, but it's a massive sacrifice for something that might never pay off.

    Or in other words it's very f*&ing hard.

  • Of course it's hard. Mastery of anything is hard, whether it is wine, or brain surgery, or the law, or the playing of an instrument, or playing a sport, or anything else. It is not the right path for everyone, but neither is competing in the Olympics. It requires incredible sacrifice and discipline to acquire the knowledge and sharpen the skills, and the focus and élan to walk into the room and perform at the highest level in spite of the pressure.

    But the point is not to pass a test and get a pin. The point is that by preparing for exams, making yourself into the person who can pass, you are becoming the best wine professional you can be. And that journey is the point. As a bonus, you make incredible bonds with other people who are at the top of their game, and are as driven and passionate and crazy as you are. Wine is art and science and history and culture and people and community. It is endlessly fascinating, and never-ending. True mastery is not knowing everything, but understanding how it all works together. And you don't have to pass exams to have mastered a subject, either - some of us type A personalities just like to have an actual bar to get over.

    Thanks for bringing up one of the greatest movie quotes of all time. 

  • I completely agree with Mia.  This exam is extremely difficult but not impossible.  I also think that the exam has to be harder as the world of wine grows to show a true mastery of the subject.  You do not have to pass a test to be a master in your given career but this exam in particular, in a world where wine does not have a true curriculum in higher education and universities (you still have to sign up for WSET and other courses but it's not a true part of the secondary education system) the bar set by the Masters Exam gives us the standard we need to reach.  

    I also work an average of 60+ hours a week on my feet as a restaurant manager and sommelier, study for three hours a day and I love every minute of it.  The work we do creates a memorable experience for guests.  We are there for their best days from anniversaries and birthdays to reunions and engagements.  We have the honor of helping to make these experiences.  We give them new memories they take with them every day and if my knowledge helps our guests and staff better enjoy their experience and gets them excited about wine, then I will never stop studying.

    To jump on the bandwagon quote: "Humanity's deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest.  And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in." -Stephen Hawking

  • I passed the intro and advanced within 3 months of each other back in 1990 at the age of 25. I was one of a handful of women in the intro and the only woman in the advanced seminar and exam. We had no early prep for the intro. I bought Brian Julyan's book at the seminar then pulled an all nighter studying and reading the book. I was fortunate enough to be able to taste with many of the OG Master Somms in my tasting group. Finding the info took a lot of work and money back then. Amazon and other discount book places did not exist. Locating the wines that would be common in the UK market was difficult. Now that the exam is much more international, the wines are not limited to the UK market and the availability in general is much greater. Finally, financially it was a greater hardship. Now, many jobs offer an education stipend as part of a compensation package. The was no Somm foundation offering scholarships. I had to figure out how to pay for it all making a whopping $6.50/hour, which was a good salary for retail back in 1990. 

    I am sitting for the Master Sommelier theory exam this July because I feel the need to finish what  had started. Yes, there is more info to know now, but after 30 years in the wine business, but I have had to learn a lot of it to effectively do my job. I still do not have a job that pays any money for the exam, but at least they are not making me use my pto for the examination days. I applied for a scholarship for the first time ever. Let's hope that my age will not take me out of the running for it. Now, not only do people know what the exam is, they appreciate the effort and the honor to be selected for the MS exam. Finally, the level of support for someone studying is amazing. GulidSomm, MS's personal website, groups on social media, and the list goes on and on... Maybe if I had had all this back then, I would have been able to put together the money and the time to finish.

    Regardless... kudos to all who have passed an exam at whatever level...Good luck and all my support to those taking an exam at whatever level.

    Anne