The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2012

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Page 125 of 132

we talked was mere hours from being over. "It's so definite, but it's true," Elsey said. But he wasn't shedding any tears for himself. In addition to prepping for the advanced test, Elsey spent this past year opening Red Room, a wine bar in Austin, and tak- ing on the roles of Sales Manager and Sommelier for "Winning last year was a game-changer. It was a career-advancing award." When I asked what this year's competitors were going through, Elsey just shook his head sadly for a while. "I'm not envious of them at all right now," he said. "There's a high level of stress. It is ridiculous the stuff they ask. Getting through it is mostly about nerve management." In addition to a written theory exam, competitors endure blind tastings, are quizzed on service, and food and wine pairings, and, this year, they were even required to make a cocktail for the panel of Master Sommelier judges. Although one first-time competitor, Jeremy Hart, proclaimed it to be the most fun he'd had since the first time he saw Ghostbusters, here's a more accurate list of (publishable) terms I heard from the two-dozen dazed and confused competitors as they awaited the results: brutal, obscure, tough— really tough, awful, unfair, nasty. Elsey agreed with all those assess- ments, then explained that that's the whole point. "Being poised under stressful circumstances is important. You have to demonstrate composure to your customers and clients, and this competition definitely puts you through the paces." Second-year competitor Scott Ota of Austin put it a bit more bluntly: "They're here to beat you up. They're going to be jerks on purpose. Being able to be at peace with that gets you through the weekend. And it's about being able to use the experience to judge where you want to go with your career. But there really is great camara- derie from all the competitors." Ryan Tedder of Fort Worth also used the C word several times while evaluat- ing his competition, and he had high praise for TEXSOM's signature compe- tition. "They are really challenging you to challenge yourself," he told me a few hours before the big announcement. "I have a three-foot stack of note cards at home that I've been studying from, and there were questions they asked me that were nowhere to be found in James Tidwell (left) and Drew Hendricks, co-founders of TEXSOM. that stack. At the end of the day, it was humbling." But at the end of the night, it was Ryan Tedder who took home the title of Texas's Best Sommelier. "TEXSOM has the best human beings you'd ever want to be around. It's all about the people and the camaraderie in this room," he told the sold-out crowd. Tedder received $2,500 from the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation for his Court of Master Sommeliers cer- tification program. Second place (and a $1,500 scholarship) went to David Keck of Uchi Restaurant Group in Houston; third place (and a $1,000 scholarship) was awarded to Steve Murphey of Mid-Stage Wine & Liquor in Plano. As Bill Elsey looked over the crowd at the ceremony—that just one year ago was cheering for him—he told me with unrestrained joy, "I love this weekend. It's Christmas time for me. James and Drew have busted their asses to grow this to this level." And as glasses clinked, as more wines were poured, as a huge buffet was served, and as some folks even started to dance, I had one thought running through my mind. I had asked James Tidwell about any regrets about starting TEXSOM. His response: "Only on Tuesday morning when we have to clean it all up." september 2012 / the tasting panel / 125 When class is in session at TEXSOM, you'd better find a seat quickly.

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