June Rodil is not a crier. But her steeliness crumbled earlier this month when she found out she passed the grueling master sommelier exam.
“I’m pretty stone-cold. I’m a gameday player. But the moment they tell you you’re finished, you fall apart,” Rodil said. “It was very momentous and very special.”
The notorious test represents one of the most difficult professional hurdles in the world of food and beverage service. Rodil, beverage director for McGuire Moorman Hospitality group (Jeffrey’s, Perla’s, Clark’s, et al), started her four-stage journey to the achievement eight years ago while working at Uchi.
“This is probably the first thing you’ve really had to work at,” Rodil said her father told her after she received her results. That’s saying something considering the Manila native and University of Texas graduate was an exceptional student who was accepted to law school in a previous life and has worked with several of Austin’s finest restaurant groups, including La Corsha (Congress), Qui and Uchi.
Rodil was one of only seven sommeliers to earn her master sommelier pin, the pinnacle achievement of the wine industry. It was Rodil’s third attempt to earn the accreditation. She joins a group of 147 master sommeliers in North America and became the seventh such expert in Texas. Whole Foods’ Devon Broglie and ELM Restaurant Group’s Craig Collins earned their pins in 2011.
The Court of Master Sommeliers was established in 1977 as a way of improving the standards of beverage service in hotels and restaurants, implementing levels of specialization that people in the industry can reach, and master sommelier is the highest.
Rodil says the accreditation from the Court of Master Sommeliers gives legitimacy to the position of being a beverage professional.
“We’re not just drunks,” she joked.
Rodil became just the third woman in Texas to earn the master ranking and one of fewer than two dozen in North America. While she acknowledges that it’s special to be among the group, Rodil doesn’t view the achievement through a gender-specific lens.
“I don’t want to belittle the importance of it, because I don’t want to deter any other women from doing it. But I don’t want more women to do it just because of the exclusivity,” Rodil said. “I want women to do it because they want to do it and know that they can. … It is very special. What it should show is that it should be OK for a woman to want to do this.”
In preparation for the exam, which took place in Aspen, Colo., Rodil studied at least four hours a day for the three month leading up to the test. She studied with a group of friends who would have Skype conference calls for more than two hours every other day as they created sample tests for one another.
“It’s why we do it,” Rodil said of the camaraderie of her industry peers with whom she endured the process. “The bonds that you make when you’re studying for this test are like the bonds I made when I met my best friends in high school.”
Rodil’s close friends and mentors were on hand when she received the news, making the day even more special, and each of her former bosses called to congratulate her.
So, how does a beverage expert celebrate completing such a difficult task?
Following her test, Rodil partied in her hotel room with friends, drinking Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year from the bottle as well as Musigny Blanc 2011.
The woman knows her stuff.