By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Thousands of hospitality professionals nationwide, and many here in Big Sky, have passed the Court of Master Sommeliers level one exam effortlessly. But for some of us it wasn’t so easy.

The Court of Master Sommeliers is a prestigious organization to say the least. Just a few years after issuing its first successful masters exam in the United Kingdom in 1969 the Court established itself as the premier wine-professional examination body.

Many hospitality professionals in Big Sky have advanced their education far beyond the level one, and have a vast knowledge of wine and spirits as well as tremendous skill sets. I admire the drive to further their education and hone their craft.

They are servers and bartenders, otherwise known as front of house professionals; some are on the retail side selling beer, wine, and spirits for a living.

For me, this exercise proved less “effortless.” Aside from the fact that I learn better through hands-on activities, my exposure to the world of wine education as a chef – or back of the house professional – has been whatever I’ve chosen to study or simply picked up along the way in restaurants. I’ve gained some of my knowledge on vacations to recognized wine regions such as Northern California or Bordeaux, France.

When I studied for my Certified Beer Judge exam in 1996, I was fully immersed in the world of malt, yeast, and hops. As an avid home brewer, I was already judging beer and was working part time in a brewery while remaining active in a beer club that met regularly. Having studied for my BJCP Beer Judge Certification Exam for a year, I was confident I’d pass the first time, which I did.

In previous columns, I’ve written that beer is more complex than wine in terms of the process, and I still hold firm to that. But embarking on the new adventure of tasting, study, and terroir – a French term referring to a wine grape’s origin – is quite a task for even the most devout wine drinker.

This is not because as Americans we associate wine expertise with arrogance, the old world, or high society, though many of us do. Instead, wine is complicated due to its history, quality, and luxury combined with minute nuances as seemingly insignificant as which side of the riverbank the grapes were grown on.

In addition, one characteristic singlehandedly overwhelms the average wine drinker more so than even the haughtiest beer drinker: its vintage. While there are some beers that age gracefully and, in fact improve with age, beer vintage is not typically a topic of conversation in my professional or social circles. When was the last time you had a discussion about whether you preferred the 2002 Summit Pale Ale over the 1999?

I’m happy to say I passed my level one exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers a few weeks back, but it was an arduous task; exhilarating and encouraging, but arduous.

Passing this test is two fold. It has given me even more respect for the Master Sommeliers of the world, of which there are only 230; and provided me the drive to pursue the world of wine in all its expansive history and glory.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.