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According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. But what if that skill contains three subsets? It could potentially take a lifetime. Douglas Kim, MS applied himself to endless hours of study to prepare for one of the most intense exams imaginable. It is comprised of three sections: Theory, Tasting and Service and while some sommeliers might pass one or two sections, it is truly a momentous occasion when one passes all three and finally becomes a Master in the Court of Master Sommeliers. 

After a confidentiality breach that took place during the Master Sommelier diploma exam in September 2018, all 23 passing candidates were asked to retest the tasting portion of the exam in either December 2018, April 2019 or September 2019. This unprecedented incident has already stripped several candidates of their title but for Kim, the December 5th retest date was an opportunity to further solidify his place among the Masters who came before him and to ultimately earn his Master pin twice over. We recently caught up with Kim and spoke with him about his path to success. 

Was this your first attempt at taking the Master exam?

This was my sixth attempt. 

How long have you been studying for
the test?

 I’ve been studying since I was twenty-one when I first took the Introductory exam.

What was the best study tool for you?

I like to study by buying and reading as many books as possible as well as using different websites. I would create questions as if I was curating the exam so that I could ask myself those questions later. I found it a bit distracting when I would study with other people but found it very useful when everyone made a list of questions to ask each other. Then you could ask why that question is relevant or important in the beverage world and have a discussion on it. That makes it more memorable. 

What was the most difficult part about taking the exam?

The time it takes to prepare. You definitely miss out on events and especially since I have a family, I had to pick and choose whether to study or spend time with them. Now I will have a lot more time to devote to them!

Did you have any mentors assist you during this process?

The most influential mentor was probably Willi Sherrer, MS who hired me as a wine runner at Aureole for my first wine gig. He was the most laid back, non-pretentious, sommelier I’ve met and helped me pass the Advanced exam. Ira Harmon, MS has been great in the community helping with tastings. Most important is probably my tasting group. We all had like-minds in wanting to pass this exam and pushed each other to get better. 

What was your initial reaction when you were informed that you would have to retest the tasting portion of the exam?

There was an initial shock. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I think I was in denial for the first couple days and then the entire week after was an emotional rollercoaster. I had never felt this way in my life. I would be lying if I said tears weren’t shed.

How did the retest feel in comparison to the initial one? Did you experience any emotions that weren’t present the first
time around?

The second time was a bit surreal. I was still nervous going in the second time as there was added pressure but once you get in that room and you start tasting, you can only think about the wines. I’ve done tastings so many times that I think I was prepared for the exam. I couldn’t have done it without my tasting group and those reaching out to do tastings for me.

What was the first thing you did after finding out you had passed for the
second time? 

I called my wife and my family to let them know I passed. I let everyone know who was rooting for me that I had been successful. 

What have you done to celebrate
your success?

I celebrated in September, so that was enough for me. This pass in December was a bit anticlimactic as I had already passed before. While I am happy for my success, I won’t be able to fully celebrate until everyone from the original class of 2018 passes again. 

What advice do you have for those who
are considering working towards their Master pin?

You have to really want the MS credential. It won’t be handed to you and don’t let failure discourage you. There is a lot of time and sacrifices you will have to make to achieve your goal. If you are aware of that and can surround yourself with like-minded individuals, it will be easier to succeed. 

How will having your Master pin change your career?

I think having the pin will open some more doors in the future but more important than the pin, I think your reputation in the wine community can weigh a lot more.