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Posted: Saturday, 21 October 2017 17:20

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Seeds for SOMM to be Sowed in India

Oct 21: One need not travel to Europe, US, Hong Kong or Australia anymore as Court of Master Sommelier Europe comes to India in partnership with Berkmann Wine Cellars India with the first Batch of CMS course (Introductory and Certified) in India to be conducted on March 7-9, 2018 in Mumbai, without costing anything extra, writes Subhash Arora who feels this is an excellent and superior course for those opting for restaurant service and hotel management

Remember the movie SOMM released in 2013 (and reviewed by delWine)? It started with the definition of SOMM on the screen - Slang for Sommelier, a restaurant person who has great knowledge in pairing wine with food. The movie was about four such Somms with varying degree of experience as wine professionals - Ian Cauble, Dustin Wilson (the bearded-one), Brian McClinic (the bald one)  and DLynn Proctor (the dapper Afro-American) who were all vying to pass the exam. It focused on various aspects of the course, the other Master Sommeliers, a touch of the family and plenty of emotions and still plenty more of wine tasting. If you did not watch it, check it out on YouTube or Netflix.

If you are uber-serious about making wine service as your successful career option, you need to watch the movie, if not so far. And if you ever dreamt to become a SOMM, the start has to be made by passing the Introductory Course (Level 1) and Certification Sommelier Course (Level 2)-which are both possible simultaneously. Usually a 3-day combined course has first 2 days of Level one and if you pass with more than 75% marks you are given the option to complete Level 2 also, thus making you a Certified Sommelier.

These courses are being conducted in Europe (London, Greece, Sweden), USA, Hong Kong (Asia) and starting in 2018 also in Australia (Oceania). There is good news for those in India serious in upgrading their knowledge as Sommeliers. Berkmann Cellars India is partnering with the Court of Master Sommeliers Europe to conduct the course in India starting with the first batch on March 7-9, 2018.  

3-4 Master Sommeliers will come from London to run the courses in exactly the same format and discipline as the Court of Master Sommeliers Europe. Mumbai would become the central hub for all the South Asian countries including Dubai, Qatar, Maldives, Mauritius, Singapore, Sri Lanka and India.

‘We are expecting 40 candidates in all from these countries including India. We already have sommeliers enrolled from Maldives, Dubai and Qatar for the course,’ says Viraj Sawant, Advanced Sommelier and Brand Ambassador at Berkmann Cellars India which has the exclusive rights to organise the course in India.

 ‘We endeavour  to get this level of proficiency and standard in India, which benefits the wine culture, wine sales, and the entire standard of our wine industry,’ says Farhad Bhabha, Director of Berkmann Cellars India, who says that the course can be taught only by a Master Sommelier. Three MS are needed for up to 40 students- and 4 if the number goes up to 50 which is the maximum we would target. 17 people have already registered for the 3-day course to be conducted in a suburban 5-star hotel.

‘The most important part is that we are replicating the exact fees that a student would pay in Europe for the Course and we do not charge any extra costs. This way, they will save time for travel and the cost of stay and travel overseas’, adds Farhad. Currently there are only two practical choices London/Greece or Hong Kong. The course costs £550 for Level 1 and £230 for Level 2 in UK  and would cost around Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 30,000 resp +GST, according to Viraj.

Court of Master Sommeliers

The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) was established to encourage improved standards of beverage service, particularly wine, in hotels and restaurants. The first Master Sommeliers examination was held in the United Kingdom in 1969. By April 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers was established as an international examining body for sommeliers. It was set up under the supervision of the Vintners Company, The Institute of Masters of Wine, The British Hotels & Restaurants Association, The Wine & Spirit Association of Great Britain and The Wholesale Tobacco Trade Association. Though its members worldwide come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, they share a proven mastery of the art, science, and history that informs a sommelier's work.

SOMM aspirants in India

Viraj Sawant is the only Indian who has cleared the Level-3, Advanced Course that has earned him the pin as Advanced Sommelier.

Kriti Malhotra is the first and only female Certified Sommelier in India. She had to travel to Athens last year to successfully complete the Introductory Course and Certification Examination. She spent around Rs. 95,000 for both the exams. She is now planning to try for the Advanced Course which will still not be available in India, and has ambitions to try for the MS Diploma.  

Balu Pandyan did his Certification course and left his job in Maldives to go to the US to work for his Advanced Course. He had still not cleared it and is currently working in Bordeaux/Antibes.

Before you think of the glamorous side, you need to understand that there is a lot of hard work ahead and only if you are passionate about wine, would you enjoy the journey without breakdown.

Difference between MS and MW

The Master Sommelier diploma is the highest distinction a professional can attain in fine wine and beverage service. Testing is focused on the areas needed for superior beverage department management, which include Tasting, Theory, Service, and also encompasses spirits, beers, as well as global wine knowledge. There are 236 Master Sommeliers in the world.

The Master of Wine program is designed to measure knowledge in a more academic form than the Master Sommelier. The Master of Wine program is popular among Négociants, writers, winemakers, and other members of the trade. It is not focused on beverage department management and service, nor does the curriculum include spirits or beer in the same way as the Master Sommelier program. The Court of Master Sommeliers’ approach is more hands on and practical whereas the Master of Wine program is more theoretical. There are 369 Masters of Wine including 124 women.

It is interesting that only after passing the Level 2 exam of CMS does one earn the Certified Sommelier pin, unlike in WSET where usually the wine servers and other applicants who clear the basic Level 1 start considering and calling themselves Sommeliers. In fact, senior officials of WSET have clarified to delWine on more than one occasion that they do not like WSET qualified people to call themselves Sommeliers but only as WSET1, WSET2 WSET Certificate or WSET Dip qualified. However, they keep their eyes closed to the misuse of the title.

Who knows the seeds for an MS from India might be sowed at the very first Level 1 and 2 Certification course in Mumbai! For any details, please directly contact Viraj at virajs@berkmannindia.com.

For a related earlier Article on the subject, visit

Easier to be a ‘Somm’ than a Master Sommelier

Subhash Arora

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