When Jason Wise's documentary, "Somm," premieres at the Napa Valley Film Festival on Nov. 7, the curtain will be raised on one of the most secretive processes in the world of wine education.
"Somm," shot over three years in Germany, France, Italy and San Francisco, follows four friends as they prepare for the grueling Master Sommelier examination, which has a less than 10 percent pass rate and a reputation for producing every physical incarnation of stress on the body. Those ulcers? They're not from the tannins in the wines. Just saying.
Does that make the test too hard? Some think so. Here are some other possible reasons for the stress:
Fewer than 200 people have passed since the exam's inception in 1969.
You have to be familiar with every wine grape varietal in the world. There are 10,000, at least, known to man.
To pass the level four Master Sommelier exam, you need marks of at least 75 percent, and the level of difficulty is dramatically higher than the level three Advanced Sommelier exam for which you need a 65 percent or higher.
It's not just hard on your brain. It's hard on your wallet. Most master sommeliers estimate spending at least $100,000 in the course of their studies and preparation.
Master sommeliers and advanced sommeliers preparing for the exam openly admit to lost time with spouses and kids. When it comes to crunch time, all they do is study.