It seems as if everyone wants to join on the hate the Master Sommelier bandwagon of late. From both an industry-insider perspective as well as from an outsider view, one can see why.
So I feel a bit guilty about adding my two cents yet a little bit less so by adding the Master of Wine program into this mix. And I also expect the wrath from those who will see these problems as insignificant when viewed from a larger perspective. But it’s pretty clear that both organizations have forgotten one of the primary reasons for their existence, to fulfill their obligation in developing global professional standards for the wine industry in response to COVID.
As noted on their site, the Master Sommelier program “sets the global standard for beverage service within the hospitality industry,” while the Institute of the Master of Wine “authenticates the highest standard in all aspects of the production, trade, and marketing of wine, as well as related health, social and environmental issues.” So its clear that issues arising from the post-COVID world of wine are in their purview.
Thanks to COVID, the wine industry will undergo changes in how wine interacts within the profession itself as well as in the world of commerce where consumers interact with wine. Already, the California Wine Institute has been active is detailing how wineries can present wines at their cellar doors or how grapes can be harvested. It seems as the MS/MW associations have the ability, if not the obligation, to frame the discussion about wine service and allied issues while providing suggestions for guidelines on how wine is sold and served. But what I want to see is more and louder involvement from both groups which have been strangely silent so far.
Take for example these scenarios that popped into my head that show the post-COVID nexus of etiquette, wine service and hygiene where guidance is needed:
- What does a somm do after pouring the first glass of wine, pour the second glass later or leave it on the table and let the guests pour themselves?
- What happens when the everyone at the table clinks glasses for a toast? Are glasses swept from the table or do they now exist in some sort of service bubble?
- Is it smarter to change your wine list to 100% screwcapped wines to avoid the constant sterilization of your corkscrew after every use? For that matter, should you sterilize your corkscrew? Those smells are nasty!
While the MS program has grown to see wine service as its field of expertise, the MW program’s turf can justifiably be seen to be the business of wine. I have not seen much discussion or debate about how the business of wine sales and education should be conducted, an area ripe for the Institute. Consider the wide scope of just these three issues that will need to be addressed very soon.
- When a buyer tastes wine for potential purchase, should he refuse to taste a sample that has been previously poured at other accounts? Does that mean sales reps should only leave full bottles at each account?
- What is the recommended future of mass sit-down tastings and masterclasses such as those offered by the Hospice du Rhone or the Wine Spectator? Are they done for? (Note the picture above.)
- What should be the procedure for both physically handling and accounting for credits/replacements of corked bottles?
- Can you get COVID from a spit bucket? (Important for Miles in “Sideways”) And does that mean judges have to swallow at wine shows?
Finally, should there be revisions and changes to the education mission of both programs with specific classes devoted to the problems and lessons learned from COVID? Should their exams be required to address these issues with specific test questions?
I can’t say that I have any answers here and, I must say that I tend to resist authoritative outreach by professional organizations in general. But I also feel that these organizations have missed the boat by not actively taking the bull by the horns and providing the platforms and initiating discourse on issues like these. Outside of the boundary-less world of the interwebs, the MW/MS programs are some of the only channels where the industry can pose these questions, start debates and come up with the ideas on how the business of wine should be conducted. Once again, I may have missed discussions of these issues or maybe everyone has agreed that its better to talk about this later. But that will mean the industry will leave things scattered with no consensus on how to go forward once business picks up.
I know both organizations already have a lot on their plate. But the wine industry needs both programs to do the work their mission statements require of them. Otherwise, you know who will do it for us.