In college I had friends that were on the 5+ year plan. They seemed to spend more time drinking than studying and took their sweet time to graduate. We used to joke that they were getting a Masters in Drinking. It turns out you can get a Masters of Drink, well sort of.
People who take their jobs in the hospitality, restaurant and beverage industry very seriously, can go through a four level education process through the Court of Master Sommeliers. If they have mad skills in the wine and spirits world and can satisfactorily pass the exams in each level, they earn the Master Sommelier diploma – an honor held by only 180 people worldwide. A few weeks ago, 63 people took the Master Sommelier exam, consisting of three parts: 1. a practical restaurant wine service section, 2. an oral theory section and 3. a blind tasting of six wines. Only six bad-asses passed the third and final section of the Master test. Two of them live right here in Austin, Texas.
Craig Collins and Devon Broglie earn Master Sommelier Diploma
Why would anyone study for years, spend thousands of bucks on materials and thousands more on the exams to become a Master Sommelier? I met Devon Broglie, specialty coordinator for the Southwest region for Whole Foods Markets, and Craig Collins, regional manager for Prestige Wine Cellars, over beers at Bar Lamar to talk about their motivation, the achievement and what it means to them.
MATT MCGINNIS: How did you get started in with wine industry?
DEVON BROGLIE: I took a lot of acting courses in college and read that if you can think of anything else, other than acting, that you truly love and can make a living doing it, do that. Acting is painful. It’s a hard career. The wine industry is the same way. I’m too in love with the beverage industry to do anything else.
CRAIG COLLINS: You’re too in love with the beverage.
BROGLIE: Yeah, I drink for a living. I love it. I respect that there is a lot more to success in the industry. Achieving Master Sommelier certification is validation of that.
COLLINS: I started in the wine industry because I thought it was a good way to meet woman. I was a student at Texas A&M and had never had a glass of wine in my life before entering the business. When I turned 21, I went to Messina Hof Winery to apply for a job. I fell in love with Texas wine and 14 years later I’m still in love with the wine industry.
BROGLIE: I started off in restaurant business. I went to Duke and got a double major in psychology and economics. With that, I made a career choice of bus boy. I started working for a wonderful restaurateur and Duke grad before my senior year and loved it. I pursued a career in the restaurant business for five years after college. In 2000 I moved to Spain and worked at a winery, Bodegas Costers del Siurana. I developed an interest in wine through the restaurant business, but didn’t know about production. I learned a lot working at the winery. I came out of the experience not wanting to be a winemaker, but with an incredible appreciation for the wine biz and for what it means to be a wine guy.
MCGINNIS: How did you two meet and start studying for the Master Sommelier exams together?
COLLINS: I moved to Austin in May of 2005, and Devon moved here in January 2005 to open flagship Whole Foods store.
BROGLIE: OK, can I tell this story? I met Craig when he came to town with Prestige Cellars. He was putting on a tasting from 2 to 5 pm. I showed up about midway through and it and the tasting had already turned into a happy hour and the wine supply was diminishing. I was totally unhappy because it wasn’t a professional setting.
COLLINS: He was pissed and he left. Anyway, we both started studying at the same. We took the introductory exam within 6 months of each other. I took it in 2001 and Devon in 2002.
BROGLIE: I went to audit the 3rd level Master Sommelier Course and while doing that I met Guy Stout, a Master Somm from Houston. Guy advised me to meet Craig Collins to study together. Really? So despite my previous impression, I called him. And get this, he was equally as hesitant. Craig grilled me with healthy skepticism before we did anything else. We met to make sure we were both serious about it. In our intro meeting Craig pulls this fat binder of wine notes out and shows me all of his hand-drawn maps and hand-written wine notes and said, “This, this is the stuff we need to study.” I knew, this guy is serious.
We started a study group in the Whole Foods global offices and met every Monday at 8 am. We studied theory one section of the world at a time: Bordeaux, Rhone and other regions for weeks at a time. We each brought a couple wines each week for blind taste tests. Individuals have come and gone from the group over the years, and now there are other study groups in the city.
COLLINS: Pursuing the Master Sommelier certification is an individual endeavor, but it takes support to get there. I’ve received a lot of mentorship and direction from others in the court nationwide. I feel like it is my obligation and my privilege to reach out to other Somms to pass that help along. I want offer assistance and describe my own path to help other people achieve it.
BROGLIE: This is a great achievement and honor I’ve been bestowed. I want to pass it on too. It’s amazing that we taught our first Court of Master Sommeliers’ course only two weeks after we were certified at TEXSOM.
MCGINNIS: Craig, you started your career with a love of Texas wine and Devon you got started with a love of Spanish wine. Over the years, what new discoveries have you made in the wine world that were unexpected?
COLLINS: One recent discovery is that I am still turned on daily to new things. A specific example of a discovery is about Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve never liked it, but my wife loves it. We took a trip to Friuli in north east Italy and fell in love with the wine made there. They make wine with the Friulana grape which is an aromatic grape and a member of the Sauvignon family. I love Friuli and can drink it all the time. It’s fun to let yourself be introduced to new wine. Wine is a discovery. As long as you’re willing to learn and discover, you’ll find new things.
BROGLIE: There is no wine that I can’t find an occasion for. That goes for anything from White Zin to Grand Cru Burgundy. There is a time and a place for every wine. That is a journey I have come to through my career as a wine professional. That mind-set allows me the experience to connect with anyone over wine. I participated in a program called Masters Napa for people who had passed the 3rd level, but have not achieved the title of Master Sommelier. One of the seminars was conducted by a member of the family that owns Sutter Home wines and we drank and appreciated White Zin. That was a good discovery and it keeps me grounded in the business and humble and understanding of a broad audience.
Some people look down on inexpensive, mass produced wines, but any wine that people like is a good exposure to wine. There is too much pretentiousness in wine. It’s not about the $60 bottle of wine. It’s about the experience of finding a wine you like that you can afford to enjoy.
MCGINNIS: What do you do or experience differently now that you have a deeper knowledge of wine?
COLLINS: Flavor. It’s not about good and bad. Flavor is very important, but the structure of the wine is just as important. The balance of alcohol, acid and tannin with the fruit. If a wine is balanced and round, I enjoy it more than just for the flavor. Flavor is definitely where I started. Balanced structure is not what I expected to appreciate in the early days.
BROGLIE: It’s surprising how different a wine can taste during a basic analytic exercise from when it’s enjoyed outside that exercise. General consumers bring this up all the time. “I had this wine in Italy and it tasted better over there.” We call it the honeymoon affect. The actual enjoyment of wine is about the experience. How much we like a wine is very tied to the experience we have with the wine, the setting, the time, how we feel. It’s fascinating. That’s a discovery that has come out of the process of learning about wine.
MCGINNIS: How does being a Master Somm influence how you help people choose wine?
BROGLIE: Achieving the Master Somm certification doesn’t change how I do my job. What the process entails is a validation of the professionalism. As a retail buyer, it is important to understand the need for balance in the selection. That balance can come from a lot of places. Consumer preference is one of those factors. That’s not a judgment call on the quality. Some wine may not be commercially approachable, but I know they are great so I puts it out there to see if people like it. The biggest piece, where the training does come in, is in the selection of the higher end wines. I want to select wines that are great examples of classic wines from classic regions and that taste how they should taste. We have limited space for that category, so I want the best representation of that wine for the space. The wine has to be stylistically representative.
COLLINS: The way I recommend wine to a restaurateur or a friend hasn’t changed. I want to give the individual something they enjoy and know that trust recommendations in the future. It’s been a 10 year endeavor and the pursuit of the certification has allowed me to be better at the consulting role over the years. The only thing that has changed over the past three weeks since achieving the Master Somm designation is that people believe me more and more people seek my advice. It’s still the same honest advice in a consultative role that I’ve had in the past. It’s a role of mutual respect and trust.
MCGINNIS: Did your mom cut out articles about you achieving Master Somm and hang it on the refrigerator?
BROGLIE: I called mom first and then started calling other family members. By the time I called the third relative she already knew because it had spread on Facebook. I had to send the clippings to mom, because they didn’t run it in the paper where she lives and she doesn’t have access to internet.
COLLINS: I went to my 96 years old Grandma’s house right after I became a Master Somm and she had Jeremy Parzen’s blog post printed and sitting on the table. It was cute.
MCGINNIS: Who would win in arm-wrestling contest?
BROGLIE: I’m a lover not a fighter.
MCGINNIS: If you had to take one bottle of wine home with you tonight, what would it be?
BROGLIE: You have to try this 2009 Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso, which is an Etna Rosso DOC wine made on Sicily’s Mount Etna.
He was right. That wine is deelish.
I really enjoyed the great conversation I had with these two humble men who are seriously dedicated to excellence in the beverage industry, I was truly impressed. I’m glad I could share their conversation with you. Their passion for the business and for sharing excellent wine experiences with other people was incredibly endearing. These are guys I’d drink a bottle or two with any time.
What are you drinking?