It was Friday July 14th, 2017, the day of my Certified Sommelier exam and I was as calm as could be. I knew that I had taken every opportunity over the last two years to prepare myself through studying at home, blind tasting with Masters/Sales Reps/other Advanced students, and practicing service as often as possible. So what did I have to be disappointed about if I didn’t pass? Nothing really!
It was 7:30am, time to leave the house and head to Metro State University. I had my black pants/shirt/blazer on, hair styled, my Level One pin, two corkscrews, odorless lighter, notebook, several pens and my husband to navigate me in the right direction. I had to have him with me because my mind was on nothing else but the exam. Originally I was going to figure out where I needed to go on campus prior to the exam so I didn’t have to stress about that too, but I stayed home and studied more instead (oops).
We finally get to the Hospitality Campus with a few minutes to spare, I pop my head in the door and ask if I am in the right place for the exam, they said yes. I turned back around, gave my husband a kiss goodbye and I was off to Somm land. I went upstairs to see a friendly and familiar face, Sean Razee, checking everyone in. I was supposed to provide an ID to check in but since I knew him, I didn’t have to. We chatted for just a moment before he wished me good luck and I went to take a seat with the other students who were taking the exam. The anxiety in the lobby was palpable to say the least. Some students were like me, calm and just ready to get it over with and some were still trying to cram in information with notecards, books, etc. I felt bad for the latter.
It was 8:20am when Jay Fletcher came and gathered all of us to take into the classroom and begin the blind tasting portion of the exam. He began to explain how the grid works, points, etc when the door opened and two more students came in. Jay stopped speaking and just stared at them as they found a seat and tried to settle in like nothing was wrong. I must say that I have never felt so much disapproval as I did in that moment, it was intense. He continued on for another minute and then set the timer for thirty minutes and said go.
I though I was pacing well with the wines but the explanation part was holding me back a bit. I finished the second wine and they called time (meaning we were at the halfway point) and I knew I had to get going, the last thing I wanted was to not finish any part of the exam because of poor time management. I had a hard time focusing due to the other twenty some students in the room who were kind’ve loud and obnoxious with the swirling of the glass and their loud sniffing, especially the guy to my left. Nonetheless, I was going to prevail. Here are the calls that I made:
Wine #1: Chardonnay from Chablis
Wine #2: Riesling from Alsace
Wine #3: Sangiovese from Brunello di Montalcino
Wine #4: Cabernet Sauvignon from Left Bank Bordeaux
I didn’t feel that great about all of those calls but I felt good in my descriptions on the grid so I went with it because I was running out of time. As soon as they collected everyones tasting exam they distributed the theory exam. Jay explained that we had forty-five questions to answer in thirty-five minutes, when were done to put it on the table upfront and check what time we needed to be back for our service exam. He set the timer and said go. I was blown away with how prepared I was for the theory exam, I flew through the exam in about 20 minutes! There was a range of questions from matching regions/grapes, some multiple choice, and some short answer questions. I knew I got three of them wrong for sure but I wasn’t worried because I could miss up to fifteen and still pass. I handed in my exam and checked my service time, I was scheduled at 3:20pm and it was only 9:40am so I decided to head home again.
It was hard to have that much time in between because I couldn’t ‘turn off my brain’ yet but I also needed to just relax for a bit so Jake and I went to lunch and talked about the first two portions of the exam. After lunch, I had time to take a short nap and review the tete de cuvee’s of the major Champagne houses and cocktails before it was time to head back to campus. I arrived about twenty-five minutes early so I just hung out in the lobby once again. I could hear people talking about the exam that had gone before me and I think that got in my head a bit, I could feel myself starting to get really anxious. I tried to calm down, control my breathing and all of that but it wasn’t working.
A few more minutes went by and my name was called along with three others to enter the classroom for the final portion of the exam, service. I had everything where I needed it in my pockets, I entered the room and set my purse down and Jay was already explaining the name of the restaurant, how many ounces per half/full pour of BTG options, what the wine was that we were to greet the table with, who our examiner was, etc; he raddled all of that information off in about forty-five seconds and then said go. My examiner was Doug Krenik and I was so surprised because I had been working with him on preparing for the exam and I thought they didn’t work with people they have been studying with so that threw me off a bit but I didn’t have time to think about it, I had to get going.
I grabbed the tray of Champagne glasses and started to greet the table with them as instructed; I got the third glass down on the table when Doug interrupted me and said they didn’t want to start with Champagne and instructed me to pick up the glasses and then talk to him about cocktails instead. He asked me a couple of questions about cocktails, one of them I didn’t know anything other than the base spirit and the other one I knew all of the ingredients which seemed to satisfy him and then we moved on to Champagne. He asked me for a suggestion to which I suggested Ruinart’s Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc and he said no and ordered some Cava instead. I remembered the producer and the vintage that he ordered but not the actual name of the wine so it was a little awkward when I presented the bottle to him but I had to play it off. I opened to bottle perfectly, poured a taste for him because he was the host and then proceeded around the table with ladies first but I forgot to pour for the guest of honor first so I got a point or two off for that. As I was pouring around the table for everyone I spilled on the table with every single glass I poured and in my head I was freaking out! I had been practicing for so long and I got so good with my pours but I was shaking a little and the shape of the bottle was not one that I had practiced with so it was awkward but I had no other option, I had to keep going. While all of that was happening he gave me several dishes that they were going to enjoy and asked me to pair a red and white wine with the dishes and explain why I chose them. I honestly don’t remember the dishes or the wines I suggested, I was so stressed at this point and stressing even more because I couldn’t relax and just breathe. I got through that and then he asked me a few questions about gin producers, to which I was able to answer only half of the question and then we talked about after dinner drinks and coffee. I felt good about the coffee portion but I totally spaced the producer he asked me about for Sherry (even though I KNEW THE ANSWER). I finished up the service and Doug instructed me to stand on the wall until the rest of the students were done with the exam.
As soon as we all completed our service exam we immediately went downstairs to the bar with the rest of the students to chill out for a while until it was time for the reception at 5:15pm where they would announce the results. I had a couple of beers and just hung out with everyone. Of course we were all asking each other, what did you call the wines and what did you put for this answer, etc…it was fun.
It was 5:10pm and we all went upstairs to await the results. The Masters poured everyone a glass of Champagne, gave a brief speech and then they started calling names of those who passed. I was the third name to be called and I yelled out, “**ck Yeah!” and I ran to the front with Champagne spilling everywhere and I gave Doug and Sean a big hug and thanked them (they both helped me prepare for the exam), grabbed my pin and certificate and immediately began calling and texting everyone that I passed! It was the most exciting news, I was elated! I did it!
Now what you may ask, well I’ve got it all figured out. I am going to take 30 days off from studying and then apply for my passport so I can start traveling to wine regions around the world to get more of a hands on experience with why these regions are the way they are. Then I will have to create a syllabus for myself and a schedule as to when I want to take the next exam. Planning for Level 3 is a little different than the first two. But for now I am just going to enjoy what I just accomplished because it was no easy task.
Thank you so much to everyone who has helped me on the way. To name a few, my Mother, Father, sister and husband, Nico Eymar, Doug Krenik, Sean Razee, Craig Beal, Matt from Pioneer, Erin Lindstone, Dana Bergen, Rachel Ego, everyone at FIRE Restaurant and The ART Hotel you all have invested time and money into my pursuit and I cannot thank you enough. To everyone else who was emotional support and believed in me, thank you!
I would just like to say thank you for following me on my journey to become a Master Sommelier, it means so much to have your support. Please be sure to leave a comment and subscribe to my blog so you can stay up to date on all of my latest adventures!