Documentary 'SOMM' Takes on World's Toughest Wine Exam

A behind-the-scenes look at the makings of a sommelier
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The documentary "SOMM"shows the training of world-famous sommeliers.

A movie about studying wine might sound a bit dull on its face — flash cards anyone? But the movie SOMM proves that prepping to become a Master Sommelier is an all-consuming adventure.

The documentary, which will be uncorked Nov. 7 at the Napa Valley Film Festival, captures the wine tasting, sweat, and tears that go into attempting to become a member of the Court of Master Sommeliers.

"The most intriguing part for the camera is the blind taste test," says Jackson Myers, director of photography for SOMM. "It's such a magical thing. But as we got to know them, we realized these people are fascinating subjects as well because they're so passionate about grape juice."

As the somms prep for an exam with a 95 percent failure rate, director/producer Jason Wise introduces viewers to four friends: Brian, a restaurant sommelier in San Francisco; Ian, then the sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay; Dustin, who worked for Treasury Wine Estates' Heirloom Group in San Francisco; and DLynnn, education director for Treasury Wine Estates who flew in from Dallas to study.

Things get tense as the quartet juggles studying, working, family life, and more studying. The Master Sommelier exam has three parts: service and sales, blind tasting, and oral theory that all draw on different skills. The somms visited six countries including Germany, Italy, and Chile as they tried to absorb the nuances of soil types and significant vineyards.

"For non-wine people especially, we’d like them to understand what we do and how intense we are in our preparations. We are as intense as people going for their PhD or CPA," says DLynn Proctor, who now lives in Napa.

Ian Cauble, who’s now U.S. ambassador for Champagne Krug, hopes the movie inspires other young sommeliers to pursue their Master’s pin.

"If you decide you want to follow this path, it's one of the most gratifying paths you can take in the wine business," says Cauble. "Every moment you put into it, you will get back in terms of success toward your goal."


Whether you are a budding somm or someone whose only wine studies involve the wine list at dinnertime, you’ll find SOMM as entertaining as any reality show.