What does a Court of Master Sommelier credential really mean? (Essay 17)


Today is Sunday. I did my laundry and the weather has turned warm. I did have enough time left to take care of a few things. I did have a talk with the person running the group for the Advanced exam and won’t be going there any more. One has to have the aspiration to be a master sommelier to study wine. That is one way of looking at the whole thing. I do agree it is very easy to train people who are learning from scratch and very hard to train someone like me who has had a great deal of training but think studying to become a master sommelier is a poor approach for several reasons. Most importantly, difficult studies require the person to dig deep into the topic and specific boundaries of knowledge are not realistic. One can study wine for the sake of studying wine but have some direction in mind versus following step after step to pass an exam. I used to follow the latter system and did very well in college until I took a Human Relations course at College of San Mateo. I was taught a new way of studying in college. In place of playing the grade game, one can seek to acquire knowledge while keeping the academics in mind also. That is how my grade averages went from top honors in junior college to flat B in university. The desire to acquire knowledge makes one abandon many of the necessary steps that lead to the highest scores. This approach does not eliminate the need to follow the steps to the academic goals but keeps the original goal in forefront of activities. I think that is what studying for an Advanced exam is about. Personally, I think anyone who opts to become a master sommelier or master of wine is likely to rank on the lowest when it comes to a desire for knowledge. Both credentials were designed to acknowledge a level of achievement and not be a way of becoming a type of person. The advanced sommelier or wine diploma are both what one needs to be on one of the highest levels of the field. The goal ought to be to become an advanced sommelier which requires the highest knowledge and provides the opportunity to gain from the field and develop knowledge. The exact same thing can be true of wine diploma. Is the master credential a practical goal to shoot for rather than the equivalents without the attention? I like to use an example from someone else about how many enter academics with the goal of becoming a PhD or Doctor of Medicine. Many do achieve these goals and we know from real life knowledge is one of the least determining factors in reaching such goals once aimed from the start. Politics, academic games, and many other unrelated factors are what determines the final success and not knowledge. We also know from experience the majority of those who are medical doctors are better avoided and the majority of those who attain a PhD are good for a stable teaching job and little other contribution. The question remains again is there a difference between the person who has from the start sought to become a master of wine or master sommelier and one who seeks to acquire knowledge within academic guidance? I think the answer is the former plays any game to reach that final goal while the latter will continue to acquire and develop knowledge before and after the formal announcements. I think it is inherent in the structure of all these advanced programs and credentials that the highest levels were reserved only if those at the top of the field deemed a person is one of their standing and not by way of some examination. I think the implied thing is one type of person will produce while another will do whatever to achieve a formal standing. My own question is should I be seeking to become a master of wine or master sommelier before participating in studies in such directions make sense for me and others? My answer is no. The idea of a university (not American which is German model) is the meeting of the minds allows one to develop ideas and knowledge. Any advanced study follows the same format and a qualified participant can develop a mind from such interactions and studies while tailoring everything to succeed at some examination is a political objective and not the true goal of a serious study. It is worth mentioning there is no knowledge without the qualified individuals dedicating the time to development of such knowledge and very little may be developed by those who sacrifice knowledge for the sake of some formal gain. I think my point becomes only those who are qualified to participate in the field and hopefully contribute something should be allowed to enter such studies and not those who seek some official credential. Such participants will deal with the realities of the field of wine and the structure of the community will lead them toward formal examinations also. Those who seek to enter a community with the ultimate goal of earning a highest examination credential have motives beyond the realities of the field in mind. That makes me think a better way to study wine for the sake of knowledge and the realities of the field is by studying it at an advanced level through structures not aiming for fashionable or profitable credentials. I can probably learn French, German and other wines much better through bodies which specialize in such studies (for the sake of the knowledge and skill) rather than some final credential. The knowledge acquired will probably put me on par with the best of the candidates for such exams but again how many of those who achieve the exams will actually contribute to the field versus carrying some badge of honor? I also believe another thing that studying for an exam and acquiring knowledge do not go together. One ought to study the topic and master (???) the knowledge before one seeks to develop for an exam. I think the former step is ignored by the way of accepting the presence of the multitudes of those aspiring for the highest credential at any cost! If the credential is to retain any value in the long run, it ought to denote substantial inherent value. How can those who are not seriously dedicated to the subject and its study foremost maintain or increase the value of such credential if all that matters is the passing of an exam? I think it is best to separate the two completely. The study of wine should be a completely separate topic and many who seek such study and succeed will be able to return to the field and contribute. Some of these will choose to prepare for some examination. This examination has served as both the ends and the means causing much confusion. Those who seek a paper with status will hardly be willing to undergo the heavy burden of such study with no political victory at the end in the form of a piece of paper with some worldly value. Frankly, that is what makes or breaks the fields. The quality and quantity of qualified individuals depend on too many factors and ought to be carefully controlled or the field will decline with no end in sight.

This post belongs to this week’s edition of Wine by Cush Magazine blog and published early in World of Cush also.

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