Master Sommeliers

Master Sommeliers

The Ultimate Title

Camille Wong | Jul 26 2017

Master Sommeliers

What does a Master Sommelier actually do? Many know that they have a great deal of knowledge about wines, but few know how much sacrifice and preparation goes into earning the title. Even fewer actually hold it.

To qualify as a full-fledged Master Sommelier, one must pass 4 levels of certification in a rigorous program, established by the internationally recognized Court of Master Sommeliers. Formed in 1977, the Court’s mission is to elevate the standards of beverage knowledge and service in hotels and restaurants. And that they do, with only 236 Master Sommeliers in the world to date, those standards harvest an elite group of people in the world of wine.

Wine, Sweat and Tears

Some compare the amount of time and studying it takes to reach Master Sommelier status with that of obtaining a medical degree. According to Forbes, the average candidate sits for the exam two to three times. They have three years to pass all sections, retaking the sections they weren't able to pass. If that is not achieved within three years, the candidate is to start over again. The vast amount of topics that they are tested on can even drill down to what years were better than others, for wines originating from certain regions of a country. In addition to historic facts, other specifics about sake, spirits and distilling methods are covered, as well as ideal food pairings and wine service etiquette.

Thirst For Knowledge Required

Passion fuels the thirst for knowledge in many Master Sommeliers. We had a chat with Roberto Viernes, one of three Master Sommeliers residing in Hawaii. He started his path to the title while working as a kitchen apprentice for a French Chef. He tells us he saw an ad in the paper one day, for a class on the Court of Master Sommeliers, and figured that he should learn how to pair wine with food. After that course he explains, “My mind was blown.” Roberto’s passion for wine can also be felt as he describes the different characters and components of wine, from fruit to floral, earth and wood. “It is the only beverage that exhibits those flavors, that has a sense of place”

Patrick Okubo, another Master Sommelier who calls Hawaii home, tells us that he too started off in another direction- hospitality management. While working for Four Seasons Hotel on Lanai, he was thrown into position of Wine Director, since the hotel was going through re-branding and he was the only permanent manager at the time. Despite zero knowledge and experience with wine, he dedicated his time to learning as much as he could for the next two and half years. After that he moved back to O’ahu and opened Formaggio Wine Bar and Grill in Kailua. There, he says, tasting hundreds and thousands of wine further struck his passion for wine.

Some compare the amount of time and studying it takes to reach Master Sommelier status with that of obtaining a medical degree.

Beyond The Title

Once the title of Master Sommelier is achieved, a world of professional opportunities await. Master Sommeliers can go on to become winemakers, restaurant owners, education directors or importers, even food celebrities with book deals, endorsements, and devoted Instagram followings.

7-Eleven Hawaii's Master Sommelier Program

Earlier this year, we launched our very own Master Sommelier Wine Program. With the help of Roberto and Patrick, we carry a curated collection of wines in each of our stores, along with information about each one and food pairing suggestions. The purpose of the program is not only to share the Master Sommelier's knowledge and appreciation of the drink with people, but to also bring wine into a different light- as a grocery, not a luxury. Roberto says, “Wine is an extension of the plate, enhancing flavors, creating atmosphere and adding to conversation.” So stop by and check out the collection, created by two of Hawaii’s Master Sommeliers. With it you will find awesome value, flavor and complexities, and perhaps even a passion for the pour.