Wine Matters

Court of Master Sommeliers Scores One of Seattle’s Own

Shayn Bjornholm heading up prestigious education program.

By Julie H. Case October 31, 2011

Shayn Bjornholm. Photo courtesy of Washington Wine Commission.

Want to get pinned? You’ll have to go through Shayn Bjornholm first. In early November the Seattle sommelier (and Canlis alum) takes charge of the education program for the Court of Master Sommeliers, perhaps the world’s most prestigious beverage service accreditation program. To date only 186 people worldwide—Bjornholm included—have passed the CMS’s diploma exam to earn the title of Master Sommelier, and the shiny gold lapel pin that goes with it.

His new role likely means more prominence and prestige for Washington’s wine and service community.

“I think for the service industry it validates the fact that we’ve been passionate about this for a long time,” says Bjornholm. What’s more, he says having someone from the Seattle sommelier community helping lead other communities is amazing. Normally that would be someone from New York, San Francisco or Chicago. Now we have a Seattle guy doing it.

For the past several years, Bjornholm has been serving as the assistant education director for the CMS. (He’s also been the education director for the Washington Wine Commission—a position he’ll relinquish to serve the CMS—and working with former Canlis chef Greg Atkinson on the wine program for his upcoming restaurant Marche.) Still, he wasn’t a shoo-in for the title of examination director for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas: he was chosen by a committee of his MS peers.

In his new role, Bjornholm will oversee all education and examinations for the CMS, which accredits at the introductory, intermediate, advanced and master levels. It’s a rigorous process: applicants for the advanced exam spend two-and-a-half days in lectures, followed by two-and-a-half days trying to pass an oral theory exam, practical tasting exam and service and salesmanship exam. Fewer than 30 percent of applicants pass the advanced level and are eligible to sit for the MS exam. Of those, fewer than 5 percent pass. Seattle, for the record, is home to at least 12 MS candidates.

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