Top of the World at Top of the Hub

With bated breath, I watched as Master Sommelier Ron Edwards began calling forward the students who had passed the Court of Masters Level 1 Sommelier course. Name after name came and went without the “Laura Duffy” that I was awaiting. Where was my name!? He neared the end and still, no me. Finally, Ron stopped and stood before the group of 70+ students, empty-handed. The available certificates and pins were out in the hands of their rightful owners and a sick feeling swarmed my stomach.

For weeks I had been dreading the 48-hour long indoctrination that the Court would be providing me. Everything they would cover should be common knowledge to all attendees. The class started on Monday with over 90 people and by the first break, 5 or so individuals left the class – and their $600 – as it became clear how the next 48 hours would pan out. Day One was filled with major wine regions from France, California, blind tastings galore and a sushi lunch. Each row of prospective Level Ones would stand up and address the class while quantitatively breaking down their assigned wine.

Sniff sniff.... Alright, who's drinkin' coffee!?

“This wine is clean with medium intensity. It is day bright and straw yellow in color with a clear rim, thick moving legs and medium to medium high viscosity.”

And that was just the sight of the wine! Row after row would pick apart brilliant wines and we’d all see each other’s skill level. My row went and we were given the pronounced Gruner Veltliner, one of my favorites! Other rows weren’t so lucky! Assityko from Greece showed up and a bone dry Sauvenniers reared its illusive little head. These tastings were no joke!

I left Monday’s class full of information and emotionally drained. I wanted a beer! But instead, I took a short nap and reviewed the Grand Crus of Chablis and Beaujolais before switching to California. When my brain was completely fried, I somehow managed to fall asleep – an inevitably drempt about my loom exam. I woke up early so not to miss my bus like I had on Monday morning and I spent the entire hour I had to study finding something to wear that  both comfortable yet professional.

I made my bus by literally 45 seconds!

Tuesday morning opened with a tasting – it was 5 o’clock somewhere, right?

Pretend the good looking guy is me

8am straight through to around 3pm when the fruits of our labor-intensive studying were to be tested. The class continued to shrink till maybe about 80 people sat for the CMS exam. The exam consisted of 70 questions to be answered in 45 minutes. I test well generally but those familiar butterflies were goin’ a mile a minute as I walked by into the room from break to accept my exam. The master sommeliers were encouraging and wished us well before the much-anticipated,

“You may begin.”

I took a deep breath and flipped over the exam. I carefully transferred the answers from my overflowing brain to the appropriate bubble. The exam was very fair and I would not have felt so well about my answers if I had taken the exam even six months earlier. I have no doubt that the WSET course I took over the winter helped prepare me immeasurably. After double checking my answers and making sure I didn’t double-bubble, I stood up and looked around the room. I was the second person to finish but I felt confident about everything. So, I handed in my test and thanked Scott Carnay, a Master legend in my opinion, and walked away from the meeting room.

The CMS was held in the Prudential building at The Top of the Hub, perhaps inappropriate for failing students who might consider jumping after not receiving a certificate. While waiting for my classmates to finish and the exams to be graded, I chatted with a few other people in the Hub’s bar area. What I really wanted to do was order a martini from the bar but I didn’t know when we would be returning to the room

“Man! What did you say for the sake question? Was Koji the yeast agent?”

“That’s what I put. What did you say for where Gavi comes from?”

“Wasn’t it Greco something or other?”

“Yea it is, here lemme check……. Aw shit, it’s from Piedmont!”

“Where the hell is Naoussa?”

“In Greece.”

And so forth. A comrade couldn’t take the suspense and bought a glass of wine to even his nerves. We continued to wait to hear the outcome until about 4:30pm. When we were summoned, I sauntered into the meeting room to find a delicious Champagne toast prepared for us! The number of candidates had again dropped to perhaps 70 people with the others leaving immediately after sitting so not to be embarrassed by the ceremony. I completely understood – several people had exited the room visibly upset after the exam.

Fast forward to the current moment, all the certificates were gone and I had nothing in my hands. As I contemplated jumping from the 53rd floor of the Pru, Ron spoke up.

“I’d like to thank everyone for to putting forth the effort required by for this class and we have one more certificate. This person clearly understood the studying that was necessary to pass this exam and she is top of the class. And that person is Laura Duffy.”

Everyone started clapping and I nearly fainted from shock and relief. I walked up front with my very empty champagne flute to the four smiling masters. We do this all the time, they laughed and handed me my hard-earned certificate and pin.

“Wasn’t it worth the wait though?” asked Master Sommelier and Sake Master, Sally Mohr with a bright grin on her face. “Cruel and unusual punishment.”

I put my pin on my necklace and wore it for the rest of the evening!

It was done and I had not only passed but passed so successfully that I was recognized. My peers congratulated me and I couldn’t stop smiling as I stared at my pin and certificate. I truly cannot explain how edifying that experience was. Any time I’d ever doubted myself or felt incompetent was completely null and void right then and there in the meeting room at The Top of the Hub.

So, I helped myself to one of the ten remaining glasses of Champagne!

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One Response to “Top of the World at Top of the Hub”

  1. Morgan Says:

    Laura,

    Great blog! Great selection last night — well done. Of course, selfishly, the part I liked best is that you picked out what I had already selected;) pretty good job out of that think book!

    Morgan Woodruff

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