In the restaurant wine world, a Master Sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers is about as good as gold. The degree is so difficult that fewer than 100 people in the world have ever earned it. But last month, two Americans became Master Sommeliers numbers 96 and 97.
Greg Tresner, from Mary Elaine's at The Phoenician Resort in Arizona, and Ken Fredrickson, from Restaurant Terroir in Wyoming, both passed the grueling three-section Master Sommelier exam in San Francisco at the end of March. The subject matter on the exams ranges from the correct way to decant wine to soil conditions in obscure winegrowing regions.
"It's really just a lot of hard work," said Tresner, who is now one of 42 people from the United States who have passed the exam. "For the second part, you have to sit in front of a group of people, and they probe your brain about wine laws in different countries. It's just a barrage of questions for about 45 minutes, which just whizzes by."
Founded in England in 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers promotes higher standards in beverage service in hotels and restaurants, with an emphasis on education. (The group also has an office in California; its telephone number is 707-255-7667.)
The title of Master Sommelier is one of the highest honors in the hospitality profession. Many sommeliers seek the degree for both personal gratification and the respect it brings in the wine industry.
The only way to earn the title is to pass the Court of Master Sommeliers' test, which is given only to candidates who have completed the organization's basic and advanced certificate courses. The Master Sommelier's exam has three sections: theory, blind tasting and practical service. Once one section is passed, the candidate has two years to pass the remaining sections.
For the tasting portion, about 20 wines are placed in front of the candidate, who must then describe each wine and its origin, identifying varietals, regions and types of soil and climate.
Master Sommeliers often spend years of their lives before they reach the point of taking the tests. Fredrickson spent six years in the Master Sommelier program. Tresner estimated that earning the degree took him 10 years of studying, but at a pace he enjoyed.
"I don't cram -- I just spent about 30 minutes a day learning about whatever I didn't know," said Tresner. "I use the example of the musician who practices 110 percent so that when the time comes, he knows everything and won't lose his nerve."
Both Tresner and Fredrickson feel that the large amount of time they spent becoming Master Sommeliers was well worth it. "It is a great feeling of accomplishment," said Fredrickson. "I encourage anyone who is serious about wine to get involved with the program."
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