I finally got around to watching "Somm" the other day - the documentary film about four young professional sommeliers studying to pass the Master Sommelier exam. I had heard about the movie when it was released but had somehow missed watching it the first time around. But a few weeks ago, I got a text from my boyfriend while I was at work: "Have you seen that movie Somm? It's on Netflix — I think you'd really like it!
I think he knew I'd like the film for two reasons. First, I'm interested in wine for, ahem, obvious reasons. Second, he knows that I'm a huge Olympics fan. And "Somm" tells the story of a group of sommeliers, including Brian McClintic, Dustin Wilson, DLynn Proctor and Ian Cauble, in a way that reminded me of the back stories we see about Olympians during the games— the sacrifices, the time spent studying, the successes and the failures of attempting something incredibly hard. And there is also — much like people who spend their days ski jumping, speed skating or snowboarding — the question of, "why would anyone want to do that?" To become a Master Sommelier is, in many respects, like winning a gold medal. It is the chance to be one of the best in the world at something. Just to put it in perspective, since 1977, only 186 people have passed the Master Sommelier exam — and the overall pass rate for the exam is about 10 percent.
After watching "Somm," I read a lot of mixed reviews on the film. Most of the negative comments tended to focus on how esoteric the subject matter of wine was, making the story hard to follow. It's a movie for people who are interested in wine, yes. And unlike other documentary films that have drawn viewers into a subject that they might otherwise not care about (say, that movie about competitive Scrabble, "Word Wars," for instance - which by the way I loved), "Somm" doesn't dumb down or skip over the wine knowledge to try and lure more viewers in. And rather than include the footage just to fill time, I think that was actually an important choice. I think it shows just how much knowledge a Master Sommelier needs to know — and how daunting (and yes, sometimes boring) it is to try and accomplish learning it all.