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Matteo Montone MS: Becoming a Master Sommelier in the midst of a global pandemic

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06/01/2021 As the UK enters its third national lockdown, we caught up with Montone to talk about his strategy to achieve the MS title, balancing studies and parenting and the importance of the sommelier profession in the post-pandemic world.

Last October, as the UK Prime Minister was announcing the country’s second national lockdown, London Edition Hotel’s wine director, Matteo Montone successfully passed his Master Sommelier (MS) examination. After years of relentless study and amid a global pandemic, Monotone finally managed to achieve the sommelier world’s most coveted qualification. 

As the UK enters its third national lockdown, we caught up with Montone to talk about his strategy to achieve the MS title, balancing studies and parenting and the importance of the sommelier profession in the post-pandemic world.

Matteo, can you describe your Court of Master Sommeliers journey?

Since I started studying wine in Italy, more than 10 years ago, I always heard of the “Master Sommelier” as being the highest and most prestigious wine qualification in the world. However, at the time I was focusing on becoming a professional sommelier [on the restaurant floor] and never thought it was going to be something I would ever try to achieve in my life. 

When I moved to London in 2013, I started my WSET studies,  first Level 2, then Level 3, and in 2014 I began studying for the Diploma while I was working at the Ritz. My head sommelier was Tobias Brauweiler, who was in fact preparing for the Master Sommelier exam at the time.

It was then when I realized what my path would have been. I could not wait to get my WSET Diploma in order to move onto the next step - the Master Sommelier exam. So while preparing for the WSET Diploma I was pushing quite hard on the Master Sommelier program and studying a lot as I knew that I wanted to get there, and soon. 

Eventually, in November 2016 I got my WSET Diploma while in January 2017 I passed my CMS Certified Sommelier Examination in Torquay and a year later I passed the CSM Advanced level. Finally, on 31 October 2020, I became a Master Sommelier.

What did the Master Sommelier exam entail and what have you done to prepare for it?

The exam entails an oral questionnaire, a blind tasting of 6 wines in 25 minutes and a practical part on wine service.

I have been preparing for the exam with consistency over the years, (in fact I believe consistency was my strength), spending an average of 10 to 12 hours of study per week plus one blind tasting per week no matter what – only one week off study per year. During the 6 months leading to the exam, I certainly increased my study and training.

I felt that I did everything I could to prepare for the exam.  I was under pressure, of course, but at the same time, I was not too stressed as I was very keen to give the exam a try, see what my level was and potentially pass one or two parts!

What have the main challenges been along the way, both on a professional and on a personal level?

The main challenge was definitely on a personal level as I have a family with two little girls, 1 and 4 years old. It’s been very difficult to juggle between work, study, and family as I was working long hours and any spare time would go into my study and training. I was incredibly lucky as my wife always supported me, although she’s always been working as well. Also, it’s not easy to concentrate in a London flat with young children around! 

How has the coronavirus crisis impacted your studies?

I must admit, I was quite stressed due to the current Covid-19 situation. As I said I have a family and young children. However, I didn’t lose my focus and I kept on studying and training in order to get to the examination preparation. So, I would say both more time to prepare but at the same time more stress too, as I had children at home while studying.

Now that you’ve got the title, what does being a Master Sommelier mean to you?

It’s definitely a great achievement, years of study are finally paying off. Right now, I’m very happy with my role as Wine Director at the London Edition and with my own consultancy and I’m sure there is space to progress in both directions.

What’s the future of the sommelier profession, taking into consideration the pandemic but also changes in consumer behavior and other challenges that were affecting the profession pre-Covid?

The Sommelier role has evolved over the years. Pre-Covid, it had become a key figure in every successful establishment where people are more willing and open to be guided in wine choices.

I don’t think it’s changed during this pandemic, although sommeliers had to expand their knowledge in order to support the floor where the staff was cut to the bone.

Wine is and always will be a very important component of any hospitality establishment, therefore [post-Covid] it will be even more important to invest in wine staff and wine training.

A third national lockdown has just been announced in the UK. How is this going to affect you and what are you going to do to keep yourself entertained?

First, I’ll have to be a full-time dad with two young children to entertain at home. We are also moving to a new home and the move will definitely keep us busy for a few weeks!

Apart from that, I always try to keep my brain going and never stop. The hotel will be closed for some time: during this time I won’t be studying for any competition or qualification. However, at the moment I am very interested in winemaking so I bought books on the subject, which I am really enjoying!

Other than that I hold regular training for my team and I am mentoring other sommeliers. I am also working on exciting new wine projects… What’s next for me? Right now it is very difficult to say, although I know that I don’t want to stop. There’s always space for improvement and new challenges. 

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