SOMM, the movie


Wine is splashing on the silver screen: today, the documentary SOMM opens in New York and on iTunes.

It’s difficult to successfully capture wine on TV or movies. The medium is limited since viewers are not able to smell or taste. Further, the characters on camera risk sounding like the stereotypical wine doofus. Miles from Sideways was memorable in this regard, with tasting notes like “the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese.”

Given these hurdles, the fact that SOMM informs, educates and maintains a riveting pace is particularly notable. The documentary tracks four candidates for the Master Sommelier exam, a rigorous test that includes a theory portion, a blind tasting portion, and a service portion. It has such a miserly pass rate that there are only 201 Master Sommeliers around the world today. Nonetheless, wine directors from around the world cram, swirl and spit to prepare for the annual sitting of the exam.

The film succeeds because rather than turning the viewer off with snootiness, it brings the viewer in by inviting you to witness wine geeks in action. It’s a window on their world, watching them banter, taste and describe wines. As the star power of point-wielding wine critics has dimmed in recent years, sommeliers have seen their star power rise, making this inside look more meaningful. Also, people enroll in my (non-sommelier) wine classes because they want to be able to talk the wine talk; watching these wine gate-keepers up close provides viewers a good opportunity to pick up some tasting methodology and jargon that doesn’t have a flutter of pretentiousness.

The opening sequence is a succinct, word-free, appealing presentation of the course of life in the vineyard in a year. Director Jason Wise keeps the pace moving with a countdown to the final exam day. As the final results are read, there’s tension followed by rejoicing and sorrow.

Check it out: the movie will make you thirsty in more ways than one.

SOMM movie trailer at iTunes
In NYC @ Quad Cinemas at 34 W. 13th St for a one-week run.
UPDATE from Quad Cinema: “Q&A immediately following the 7:20pm show with DUSTIN WILSON FROM ELEVEN MADISON PARK AND LAURA MANIEC FROM CORKBUZZ on Friday 6/21. (They will also introduce the 9:50pm show).”

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14 Responses to “SOMM, the movie”

  1. I found it on iTunes, but after the recent update iTunes is no longer communicating with my ipod and since the Apple store won’t help me I will have to spend some time on-line seeking help and the movie may come to town before then. but I will definitely see it.

  2. Honestly, I’ve never been that impressed with the MS crowd I’ve met. Some are educated, interesting people, but most tend to be of very narrow and limited abilities outside of the five or six years they take to pass this exam, of which about 90% boils down to rote memorization. Many also seem to lack even a rudimentary quality education beyond high school. All of this would be neither here nor there were it not for the fact that so many of these people tend to trumpet an MS certificate as the equivalent of a Ph.D from a top university…the reality of which couldn’t be further from the truth.

    The English Master of Wine, in my eyes, has always been a much more serious endeavor as evidenced by the fact that one must spend a third year creating and defending an original piece of scholarly research–similar to a true doctoral program. It’s why I think you’ll also see almost every MW possessing the foundation of a top university education.

  3. Robin – Good luck with the upgrades.

    Robert – you raise a very valid point about sommeliers and epistemology. I was struck by the scenes of one of the candidates drilling, drilling, drilling with his flash cards. As you say, it does seem a vary fact-based form of knowledge, rather than question-based.

    As to the MW research paper, I agree that it is a challenging undertaking and requires asking a good, foundational question. However, as I have posted about previously, I am disappointed that the Institute of Masters of WIne permits and encourages candidates to draw on the industry for resources and interviews, yet does not make the final papers in the public domain. Clearly it is a private institute and has no legal obligation to make the papers public, but in the spirit of sharing knowledge, it seems like the right thing to do. Clearly, all Ph.D. dissertations are available through UMI microfilms.

  4. Interesting point, Dr. Vino and one that I was unaware of. I’ve assisted two MW candidates in their third year dissertation and was completely unaware that this research is kept private upon completion.

    I agree with you that much of it might be very useful in the industry were it made widely available.

  5. i saw Somm this weekend. i was both impressed with their ability to blind taste, and also found it a little silly. my wife and have really gotten a kick out of imitating that tasting style all weekend.

  6. Hmmmm… I really enjoyed the movie. I think its great insight into working on something that one is passionate about!!! Actually Loved it!!! no Im not a Somm, nor am I training to be one, but I do have a passion for wine…Good Review Tyler, I think you nailed it on what the movie really succeeded in doing..

  7. I have to go with Robert on this – though I am biased, as I am pursuing the MW myself. But I started out in the wine world as a sommelier (I hate the diminutive Somm), but through the Guild, not the Court of Masters. The Guild teaches through classroom hours and the Court just administers tests. I believe the basis in classroom training more prepares one for the business of wine and running a restaurant wine program, which is what sommeliers are supposed to do. (Another pet peeve – if you’re not working in a restaurant, are you a sommelier?)

    I could digress all day in many different directions, but the MW is about the business of wine as well as the romance. I’ve seen plenty of bad wine programs run by certified sommeliers. And wouldn’t it be nice if restaurant wine buyers be required to work as wholesale wine reps for at least six months, so they can be aware of how insufferable they can be?

  8. I couldn’t agree more, wineguy. I can’t tell you the utter lack of professionalism I’ve seen among far, far too many somms, and the worst offenders are usually those with a pin on their lapel.

    At the very least, I would like the MS program to include a component of basic business etiquette and professionalism….the kind of things a young lawyer, accountant or corporate trainee is expected to know within a month on the job. If it can be expected from people with truly serious and important jobs like judges, scientists and e.r. doctors, I think that a person who runs a wine list can manage the same.

  9. if we’re gonna suggest improvements, i think you should also have to work at least 1 harvest at a winery before you can be certified as a somm. If you’re gonna call yourself an expert, you should at least have some idea of what it’s like to make wine

  10. p.s. i also think it should be mandatory to work a harvest before you start your own wine label. if you haven’t sorted grapes and scrubbed tanks, than you shouldn’t be able to call yourself a winemaker

  11. […] movie will make you thirsty in more ways than one.” Tyler Colman reviews SOMM. Meanwhile, in the latest episode of Wine Without Worry, Jameson Fink chats with Jason Wise, […]

  12. […] SOMM, the movie […]

  13. Any new film/documentary on wine is always welcome news – I agree that it is difficult to make wine interesting on the big screen for anything longer than 5 minutes for non ‘wine-geeks’ – I look forward to seeing Somm soon

  14. As far as the college education of MS holders, off the top of my head:
    Fred Dame – Washington & Lee
    Greg Harrington – Cornell
    Paul Roberts – University of Texas, Austin
    Andrea Robertson – Southern Methodist University
    Joe Spellman – University of Chicago
    Fran Kysela – Miami University of Ohio
    Laura Depasquale – American University
    Madeline Triffon – University of Michigan
    Kathryn Morgan – Rutgers
    ..some solid schools there.


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