Industry & Culture

The Wayward Somm: Certifiable Part 1

By Trevor Bernatchez

Before joining BevSpot, Trevor Bernatchez spent over 15 years in the world of restaurants and wine retail.  After becoming a Certified Sommelier in 2015, Trevor was looking for new challenges for his career in the beverage industry. As BevSpot’s Sr. Manager of Customer Education, Trevor uses his years of experience and education to help others become more successful with their bars and restaurants.

It was 91°F, and I was sweating buckets through my brand new suit. Add in the fact that my nerves were on edge, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one uncomfortable day...



You’re right to think my choice of clothing was strange. People don’t normally want to be wandering around Boston in a full suit this far into the summer, but this day was different.

It was July 29, 2015, and I was waiting to find out if I was becoming one of America’s next Certified Sommeliers. If you’ve read my last post about how I actually became The Wayward Somm, then you already know how this ends, but that only tells a small part of the story.

Why did I decide to get certified?

So, why did I decide to put myself through the process of becoming a sommelier? Well, since I was (and still am) one of the millions of people paying off their student loans, there really was no realistic way for me to pursue a graduate degree. As it was, I’d spent the last 15 years to this point in the hospitality industry in order to help pay for music school and in turn help pay off my loans.

After years building up my passion and knowledge on the beverage side of the industry, I realized that the most affordable path to my higher education was through wine. I had spent years passively building the foundation I would need to successfully become a Certified Sommelier, but if I didn’t want to let all that time go to waste I’d have to act soon.

Once I got myself registered, I had my deadline in place. This was a huge help since I’m the kind of person who needs something looming in the distance in order to get me motivated. Now all I had to do was study…

How did I study for the test?

Let me preface this by saying that I hate to study. I hated it in high-school, I hated it in college, and sadly I didn’t uncover some deep-seeded love for it during this process. Once I got my study guide downloaded and printed from the Court of Master Sommeliers website I got even more anxious because there were hundreds of pages to cover, and that was just in one book (there were another 10+ supplemental resources suggested as well).

Now, even though I hate to study, I have always been lucky to have what I call ‘Jeopardy Brain.’ Meaning I have a strange, innate ability to remember random facts and trivia about certain topics. I realized as I was going through all of these study guides, that I had to treat these as trivia facts I could memorize and pull from the depths of my brain when I needed them most.

Once that started clicking, I had to strengthen up my blind tasting. For those of you who don’t know, in order to pass levels 2-4 (Certified, Advanced, Master) in the Court of Masters program, you need to be able to successfully blind taste wine. By that I mean you have at least two wines in front of you (one white and one red for the Certified level) and you need to use deductive tasting methods to narrow down what wine is in your glass, or more appropriately what isn’t in your glass.

Tasting Grid

(Sample of the CMS Deductive Tasting Grid. This teaches candidates how to approach blind wine tasting.)

This seemingly small task makes up ⅓ of your exam (tasting, theory, and service), and was the aspect I was most worried about. How can you pick one of the countless combos of grape varietals and wine regions in the world out of just one glass? Why should you be able to do that? The answers to both of those questions still elude me to some extent, but either way I had to get cracking.

Strangely, the best time of day to taste wine is in the morning. I’m not talking about some point before noon or anything, but literally right after you wake up and get out of bed. Your nose and palate are fully rested and you’re really going to be at your peak abilities at that time of day. Thankfully for me, my wife is amazing, and was one of my biggest supporters on this journey.

Before leaving for work, she would pour me one red and one white wine and have it ready for me when I got out of bed. I’d roll out of the bed and over to the desk in our bedroom and start tasting (not drinking) wine. After finding out if I was right or wrong, I’d go about my day until I needed to report to work. Then my GM, who was already certified, would have a white and a red waiting for me at the restaurant so I could do the whole exercise again, and by the time I would get home at 11:30-ish, my wife would we waiting with two more wines. I really was tasting wine all day long for months leading into the exam (sounds painful I know).

Finally, before I knew it, the day had arrived... 

Continue on to Certifiable Part 2: Exam Day!

 

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