Writer/Director: Jason Wise
With: Ian Cauble, Brian McClintic, Dlynn Proctor, Dustin Wilson, and Fred Dame
Somm is the nickname for Sommelier. And Somm is about four men preparing and taking the Sommelier Masters exam. It is an exam over three days in three parts: tasting, theory, and service.
Individuals taking the exam must have encyclopedic knowledge of wine; its history, the regions, the variations, the wineries, the climate and how it affects the vines, why some years are better than other, etc., etc., etc.. They must also know how to pair the wines with appropriate foods and why, as well as handle difficult services and customers with “skill, elegance and diplomacy.” And most importantly, after their blind tastings–three reds and three whites–they must be able to “identify, where appropriate, grape varieties, country of origin, district and appellation of origin, and vintages of the wine tasted.”
The individuals we are introduced to are Ian Cauble, Brian McClintic, Dlynn Proctor, and Dustin Wilson. None of them are from privilege, but all of them share a passion for wine. Ian Cauble is the obsessive compulsive of the group; constantly studying, reviewing, and tasting; as the test day approaches he grows more and more neurotic. Brian McClintic is the former athlete who likes the challenge of the exam; of the group he is the most relaxed and grounded. Dlynn Proctor from an early age saw the well dressed man pouring and explaining the wine at a restaurant, and knew from that day what he wanted to be. Dustin has taken the exam in the past and aims to succeed where he previously failed.
Though initially all four work as a support group, the core becomes Ian, Brian and Dustin with Dlynn coming in and out. Brian and Dustin go so far as moving in with each other even though they are both married. As for the wives and fiancés, they know they have lost their men until they have passed the exam; accepting their temporary place behind wine and the other men in the group.
The success of Somm and why it does not become a pompous bore–because in the end all we really are talking about is “fermented grape juice” in the words of Brian McClintic–are these guys. They’re charming, they’re neurotic, they’re overwhelmed, they’re frantic, bust most of all they are identifiable and relatable. During a practice tasting Ian becomes convinced that two of the white wines where incorrectly labeled. Even though the tutoring Master Somm confirms that they are in fact correct, Ian still believes they have been missed labeled. On his way home in his car, Ian still goes on about how he is right and they are wrong. I know that feeling; I have been Ian in that situation. And in the end I have almost always been wrong. There isn’t a person who has a passion for something that cannot identify with any of these men and where they are coming from.
Jason Wise, the director, maintained a good pace throughout the documentary and built tension to the climax of the exam. Wise also has an eye for shot framing and editing. Near the end after the results of the exam are known, there is a shot that clearly illustrates the agony & ecstasy of passing or failing that Brian McClintic verbalized earlier in the documentary. He also does an excellent job of giving us the history and importance of wine in our world culture–the only miracle Mary, the mother of Jesus, ever asked of him was to make wine for a wedding.
You do not have to be a fan of wine to be a fan of this documentary. In the end this is not about wine, but about the achieving of an almost insurmountable goal. By giving us good people to route for, Wise gave us a good documentary to watch.
Grade = B
PS If you are interested in reading what the Masters Exam entails, click here.