Behind the scenes look at June Rodil’s Master Sommelier quest

June Rodil TastemakerEarning the Master Sommelier Diploma in the Court of Master Sommeliers is an unbelievably difficult task. The exam has three sections: a verbal wine knowledge test, a blind tasting of six wines in 25 minutes, and test of the candidate’s ability to provide and beverage service in a fine setting. Since its inception in 1977 in England, only 227 people have reached the rarified air of the Master Somm. Only 147 people in the U.S. have passed the test since 1987.

Until the summer of 2011 there were zero Master Somms in Austin, but then Devon Broglie and Craig Collins became the first two in town. Now, June Rodil, beverage director for Maguire Moorman Hospitality Group, becomes the third in Austin, the seventh in Texas and one of 23 women in the world to hold the distinction. She has completed the four stages of testing that include Introductory Sommelier Course; Certified Sommelier Exam; Advanced Sommelier Course; and Master Sommelier Diploma (read about the process in So You Want to be a Sommelier).

I first met June four years ago right after she passed the Advanced exam. It was clear that her bubbly personality, keen intelligence and unrestrained drive to succeed would propel her to the Master level. Armed with her signature sharp wit and that mischievous gleam in her eye, June shared a behind the scenes look at her quest to become a Master Sommelier.

What Are You Drinking?: How long did you study for the exam?

June Rodil: I got my Intro pin in 2007 when I started with Uchi Restaurant Group.

 

WAYD?: How certain were you that you had passed?

JR: HA! That’s a good one.

 

WAYD?: Who was the first person you called after you earned the Master Sommelier title?

JR: I handed my phone to Aaron (my boyfriend/S.O.) to pick up and respond when necessary. I was in a room full of my peers and some of my best friends. My mentors were present as well. It was very special to have so many people there in person. Then, I called my parents and my grandparents (cause, duh). And then work.

 

WAYD?: Who was the most helpful in you preparation for the exam?

JR: You have to find a good study partner. I skyped endless hours with David Keck and Jill Zimorski. The day before the exam, I locked myself in a hotel room with Josh Orr and Jordan Salcito to review “the world of beverages” for about 12 hours. All these people are rad so it’s not so bad to spend so much time with them. It’s also beneficial to have a super supportive S.O. who doesn’t mind it if you’re studying every moment away from your normal 12 hour work day. Find your people. They will help you get there. Don’t spend your time being in too many study groups or having a very large one. Things get complicado.

 

WAYD?: What did you drink after the ceremony?

JR: Oh, but the question is what did we drink BEFORE we went to get our results….

 

WAYD?: Who was the first person who made a masturbator joke?

JR: You know there’s a Master Bates, right? Christopher Bates, MS. No joke. Just real life.

 

WAYD?: If you were single/unattached, would you use your new title to get laid?

JR: Nope.

 

WAYD?: What is the one thing you would never drink? (wine, spirit, cocktail, beer)

JR: Pickle Juice.

 

WAYD?: Would you refuse service to anyone who ordered it? (yes or no)

JR: Yes. Because if it accidentally touched my skin, I would start dry-heaving.

 

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Rippin through the rosé with Devon Broglie

Devon BroglieNothing beats a glass of delicate and lovely pink wine on a warm day. Master Sommelier and global beverage buyer for Whole Foods, Devon Broglie, led a packed house through a tasting of seven rose wines in his session, “Rosé by Any Other Name,” at the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival.

Broglie started his session by using the Champagne saber left by Mark Oldman to slash open a bottle of Bolligner rosé to the delight of the crowd. After the Champagne, attendees were treated to a range of wines from Texas, Washington, Sicily, Spain and the holy grail of rosé, Provence. The bold Artazu from the Navara region of Spain was a standout, with big, bold flavors.

 

Related 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival Articles: 

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10th Annual TEXSOM Highlights

TEXSOM

Its like Christmas in August, or, summer camp for wine pros. The tenth anniversary of the Texas Sommelier Conference, AKA TEXSOM, held at the Four Seasons Hotel Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas drew 900 sommeliers and wine enthusiasts to participate in educational seminars, wine tastings and tons of fun networking.

This year  39 Master Sommeliers, 10 Certified Wine Educators and six Masters of Wine presented 23 seminars on beverage topics. Highlights for me included:

  • A panel exploring lesser-known regions of the United States that are making bad-ass wines presented by Sally Mohr MS, Guy Stout MS, Paul Lukacs, Wayne Belding MS, Marguerite Thomas, Kathy Morgan MS, moderated by Alfonso Cevola CSW. The Colorado Syrah and Texas wines stood out for me.
  • A fun session tasting of Napa Valley wines led by Master of Wine Peter Marks who did it Jeopardy style.
  • A tasting of the ridiculously delicious, but impossible to get wines of Portugal led by Master Sommeliers Devon Broglie and Keith Goldston.
  • An incredibly enlightening session on the most dynamic producers in Chile and Argentina presented by Craig Collins MS and Peter Neptune MS, AIWS, CWE.
  • A seminar and tasting on the Italian sparkling wine region Franciacorta led by Charles Curtis MW and Michael Franz, editor of Wine Review Online.
  • And the pièce de résistance, a retrospective tasting of ’75, ’77, ”80, ’87, ’91, ’97, ’05 and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chappellet Winery with Frederick L. Dame MS, Jay James MS, and Cyril Chappellet. Crazy good wines.

The whole thing is capped off with a Grand Tasting sponsored by the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas where the winner of the Texas’s Best Sommelier Competition is announced. Here are a few images from the Grand Tasting.

My favorite part of the event is talking with Texas winemakers and wine pros from around the world before and after the sessions. Enjoy the images of this spectacular conference.

Disclosure: I was provided a media pass to attend this conference at no charge.

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A Masters in Drinking

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?

COLLINS: Devon.  

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.  

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