Somm: Wine Tasting in a Man’s World

Somm is next in a short line of films where wine is the object of obsession, in the same vein as Sideways. The film was premiered at the Napa Valley Film Festival last November, and made its international debut here in Vancouver on June 11. Here is the trailer.

Somm is short for Sommelier, that gatekeeper of restaurant wine cellars formerly known as a wine captain, well paid to recommend the perfect wine for  your dinner

Becoming a basic sommelier is hard enough. This film is about the journey to becoming a Master Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers, of which there are only 200 in the world. CMS is a closed group, secretive and shadowy. And if you watched this film and knew nothing at all about the CMS, you might think that it’s a men’s club. Because, in Somm, wine is a man’s world.

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Somm follows four San Francisco guys – Ian Cauble, Dustin Wilson, Brian McClintic, and Dlynn Proctor – who are so obsessed with wine, they won’t stop studying it until they win their Master Sommelier credentials. The guys form a study group, coach each other on Skype, read flash cards on treadmills and practice tasting with other Master Sommeliers. Male Masters, of course.

Somm is essentially a wine bromance, the vinicultural equivalent of The Hangover, the Hot Tub Time Machine for winos.

Most of the women featured are long-suffering and neglected wives and girlfriends who are left to clean up their guy’s “disgusting” dump buckets.  They are like Mormon wives supporting their men’s quest for godhood.

These women tearfully wait while the guys take the exam in Dallas, hoping they pass not from a sense of altruism, but because they want their relationships back. One wife counts herself as third in her candidate’s heart, behind wine and family.

Four women sommeliers are included. Elizabeth Dowty, Whitney Fisher, Margaux Pierog and Emily Wines MS speak about the process of studying for the exam, in one sentence each. No women coach the guys and no women candidates are interviewed before the exam, even though the CMS website shows that in 2011, the year Somm was filmed, Jennifer Huether earned the title. In 2012, Gillian Ballance got her MS.

If any women took the exam with the guys, this film does an excellent job of hiding them.

By contrast, Sideways featured two strong female characters, but then again, that was fiction.

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Here are my tasting notes:

Somm is beautifully photographed and well edited, with inspiring notes of desire and perseverance, generous layers of testosterone, medium plus intensity of humor, leading to a long finish of pride and self-aggrandizement.

What Somm lacks is balance, the most important quality of a wine. And life.

Still, I’m certain that audiences will love Somm, especially dudes in the 19-40 year age range. Men will want to be these guys, women will want to be with them.

I watched Somm at the wine-friendly, woman-owned Rio Theatre on June 11, at a screening preceded by a wine tasting. The theater was full of wine professionals, about 50% of them women.

Local wine writer Kurtis Kolt emceed a Q&A with director Jason Wise via Skype, and he admitted this film was more important right now than his five month-old baby. The session also included commentary from two MS candidates who were – you guessed it – dudes.

Oh well.

But enough of my feminazism, what did you think of Somm? Did it bother you that women were sidelined? Does gender balance even matter in the wine world. Or, in a documentary like this?

Please tell me, I’d love to know.

Meanwhile, please pass the spit bucket.

Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Studio.com. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.

4 thoughts on “Somm: Wine Tasting in a Man’s World

  • June 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm
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    I think you make some good points about this film’s apparently accidental exclusion of women and the lack of gender balance. I find it hard to believe that, at some point in the creative process, this aspect was not aired. While nothing is done to discredit or demean female sommeliers, I do think the producers have shot themselves in the foot by not being inclusive. Not everyone appreciates a sausage party in all films, especially one where the documentary genre is dominant. Sounds like it describes a world that doesn’t actually exist.

    • June 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm
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      Thank for saying so, Bradley. Nobody likes being left out.
      Cheers!

  • June 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm
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    Agreed! Gosh, and I thought I was the only one who noticed! Men, men everywhere! And sure, I like them – sure I do! But seriously…

    • June 17, 2013 at 11:03 am
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      I like men too but not wall-to-wall on the big screen.

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