The juxtaposition of Ms and MS is intentional, in combination they make an accurate reference to only 21 accomplished women in the world to-day. This pair of prima facie identical prefix and suffix is a nature-nurture alignment attained by the resolution and very hard work put in by each and every female individual whom have passed one of the toughest tests in international wine world: Master Sommelier. The Master Sommelier examination is a strenuous triathlon itself, involving three key disciplines in the study of wine and hospitality: theory, tasting and practical service. The lowest pass mark of all modules is 75%, and average annual pass rate fluctuates around a meagre 10%. At present there are 219 Master Sommeliers around the world, among which only 21 of them are women. Today’s post highlights the story of Lindsey Whipple, one of the four newly-minted Master Sommeliers, and the only female, whom have just passed their exams last month in Aspen, Colorado. No doubts her professional story makes the international wine world proud, yet behind all the accolades and achievements, it is the story of a girl born to half a family of Italians all passionate about food, wine and friends; and a journey through which she learns to balance between comradeship and independence, struggles and perseverance, stress and motivation.
Lindsey had an early start with wine. With half of her family being Italians, Lindsay got used to entertaining friends and families over food and wine every Sunday. At ten or eleven, she started putting away wines in her own closet, and that’d probably be her first wine collection! At university, Lindsey entered United States’ top hospitality school University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she dabbled into the professional world of alcoholic beverages beginning with a semester on distilled spirits. Attending various tastings during university life led her to her first crush, 1985 Chateau Margaux, a sip that pointed her down the road less traveled by. A pursuit in the career field of wine and beverage brought Lindsay to a rotation of restaurant and wine portfolio management roles in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Over the years she has worked in Las Vegas for restaurant outlets Mark’s, Cut by Wolfgang Puck, and in Los Angeles for Campanile. In 2003, she took her Introductory Sommelier, first step along the ladder that leads towards the esteemed title of Master Sommelier. Over 10 years, she took the other two progressively harder examinations on the way and finally obtained her Master Sommelier accreditation in May 2014.
“Sounds like a pharmacist.” That is Lindsey’s two cents on the role of a sommelier in a restaurant. The concept of a heart-winning sommelier has always been coined as the knowledgable wine person who humbly applies what s/he knows to find the wine that the diner seeks, without superimposing his/her personal preferences and opinion on the matter. Lindsay’s pharmacist metaphor is accurate, with a touch of Tim Burton’s sense of quirky humour. On sommelier exam techniques and tips, Lindsay credits her friends and study groups for their help and assistance, citing peer support one of the cardinal pillars that underpins and evolves the profession of sommelier. “But the pursuit is a lonely journey,” Lindsey added emphatically. She had distanced herself and stayed away from friends and families during the last stage of preparation, so to find her internal zen and calmness through isolation. Going through the examination itself is an exhilarating experience, as you are given more or less half an hour’s time to show people what you’ve got after years of preparation. Those moments overwhelm one too many brightest individuals with tsunamis of stress and anxiety. To Lindsey, the trick’s all in the mind. “It’s always about fun, walk in there and don’t be terrified, be ready to take it down and show them what you got,” she waxed lyrically, “…make it fun for the people testing you, and for yourself too.”
Master Sommelier results announcement differs from the practice at more junior levels of examinations. Candidates are individually led to different locations within the complex by the examiners and be informed separately whether they’ve made the mark. Lindsey was brought to the corner of a function room where she was told that she passed this gruelling examination. There were no overjoyed tears, no angry throw of chairs, no pants stripping (these bizarre behaviours have all allegedly happened in the past). It was pure happiness, it felt like her graduating from college once more, it was “the world is her oyster” kind of moment. Lindsey spared no tears for that life-changing moment, knowing full well that she has already shed enough tears on the way. Now a one-month-old Master Sommelier, Lindsey is busy reorganising her career and life objectives, ready and excited to embrace changes and opportunities yet to come her way. What remains unchanged is her willingness to share her passion and knowledge of wine. “I am never unapproachable”, Lindsey serenely remarked.
Picture (above): Lindsey Whipple receiving her Master Sommelier pin after years of hard work Picture (below): Lindsey Whipple Master Sommelier