The Stout Report – And Then There Was One

Guy Stout’s report on the recent Master Sommelier examination in Dallas, Texas, where only one in 70 passed.

nick  hetzel

Nick Hetzel (second left) pictured with fellow Master Sommeliers Shayn Bjornholm, Laura De Pasquale and Greg Harrington

I arrived in Dallas on Sunday prior to the start of the Master Sommelier Final Examination. A reception early that evening was set to welcome all candidates and examining masters in the Byron Nelson room at the Four Seasons Hotel & Resort

The reception is a new twist for the Masters, having kept at arm’s length between the candidates and Master examiners in the past. I am happy to see the change and could see the tension being broken and barriers come down. It had been awkward in the past, seeing someone you practiced with and not able to pull up and have a cocktail with them for fear of showing bias. It would prove to be an interesting week.

There has been a lot of talk among the candidates about the recently released movie SOMM, about the process of becoming a Master Sommelier. One of the four candidates interviewed and followed in the movie was sitting the exam.

It was a long week and there were many small victories for most of the candidates passing a portion of the three part exam. That was the path I took to get though the program.

70 candidates sat the exam, the largest group ever in the history of the exam. When the dust settled, there was only one person who emerged as the newest Master Sommelier, Nick Hetzel. I think that everyone was surprised that only one candidate got through. I shared a glass or two of Krug Champagne, with several of my good friends who sat the exam and didn’t make it. I volunteered to help work with them even more in the future. Genuine words for a somber moment.

Krug Champagne is the official Champagne of the Master Sommelier exam and whose name appears on the trophy called the Krug Cup, which is awarded to the candidate that successfully passes the exam on first try. The Krug Cup is the highest honor in the Master Sommelier program.

Each year at the conclusion of the exams, there is the Masters dinner, where the examining Masters welcome the newest member(s) to the group. Master Hetzel sat at a different table than I did. We all signed a copy of the menu for the dinner and presented it to Nick. I got to visit with Master Hetzel (sounds like pretzel) after the dinner on the patio of the 19th Hole at the Four Seasons Resort. He had brought some really nice cigars and had heard I enjoyed a good cigar. He was correct. Most of the Masters headed off to bed with early flights the next morning. But Masters Paul Roberts, Doug Frost and I bought rounds for our newest Master, Nick Hetzel.

Nick is a very likable, affable nice guy. I asked him what this meant for him and his future and he said he would keep doing what he was doing. He likes his job at Sage in the Aria Resort in Vegas. I was happy to hear that. Some people take the MS exam to get that Big Job.

Congratulations to Nick – the one master to come out of the grueling Dallas examination!

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