Houston’s wine scene just got even more distinguished because another Houston beverage professional has passed the wine world’s toughest test.
Brandon Kerne, the director of operations at Houston wine storage facility Art of Cellaring, has earned the title of master sommelier after passing the “world’s toughest test”—the Court of Master Sommelier’s Master Sommelier Diploma Examination.
Kerne is one of just two sommeliers to pass the exam this week. Jeremy Broto-mur of New York City’s Michelin-starred restaurant Daniel also earned his title.
Administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, fewer than 200 people worldwide hold the prestigious title, including five other Houstonians: June Rodil (Goodnight Hospitality), Jack Mason (Republic National Distributing Company), Keith Goldston (The Post Oak), Steven McDonald (Pappas Bros. Steakhouse), and Guy Stout (Stout Family Wines).
The Master Sommelier Diploma Examination is notoriously difficult, requiring wine professionals to first pass three increasingly difficult exams that cover a sommelier’s knowledge of wine, blind tasting ability, and service skills; and then receive an invitation from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Kerne wasn’t sure if he was going to sit for the Master Sommelier examination three weeks prior to the test. In the end, he figured he had waited enough.
This week was his sixth attempt at passing the wine service and blind tasting portion and he didn’t want to put it off. Kerne tells CultureMap he’s spent the last 10 years pursuing his goal of earning his new status.
The native of Hammond, Louisiana is one of two Sommeliers who this week passed what is widely considered the most difficult examination in the wine service industry. Frechman Jeremy Broto-Mur is the other.
“A lot of this is personal growth and self-actualization. I had a goal 10 years ago. I wanted to get over this hump,” he says. “It’s nice to be recognized by my peers and to finally be able to get back to my friends and family. Since I made the goal, I’ve taken it really seriously.”
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In Kerne’s case, “seriously” meant studying wine theory intensely — sometimes for as much as 12 hours per day — for six to nine months while working full time for Pappas Bros. He credits Mason and McDonald, his former colleagues at the steakhouse, with helping him prepare for the rigorous tasting section by giving him practice flights.
After coming up short on the tasting in previous exams, Kerne says he upped his mental game by learning breathing exercises. He sought to improve his luck, too.
“I had animal figurines in my pocket. I had crystals in my pocket. I had breathing exercises,” he says. “I’ll try anything. Let’s just get this thing done.”
While the Court of Master Sommeliers had to change some procedures after some prominent members were credibly accused of sexual harassment, Kerne thinks the discipline required to pass the exam can serve as a useful goal for people looking to advance their careers.
“The reason I continued down this path is because I believe in it,” he says. “It pulled me out of a depression and gave me purpose in life, having a goal and something to work towards.”
Turning to his current role at the Art of Cellaring, the wine facility in Upper Kirby offers both its members and members of the general public ways to broaden their knowledge. The facility’s Texas Wine School is the only place in the South where someone can earn a WSET diploma, and its Art of Cellaring Selections wine store offers 3,500 different bottles for purchase.
“It’s not window shopping, but you can walk in the door and walk through a selection of wines that consists of everything from $10 Spanish Grenache to some of the greatest Burgundy on the planet,” Kerne explains.
The sommelier says he plans to celebrate this weekend with Champagne, Barolo, and Burgundy, so it seemed fitting to ask him about natural wine. The emerging movement is prominently featured at a number of bars and restaurants around town, including Light Years and Nancy’s Hustle. Kerne acknowledges some of it tastes of “bizarre alien yeast flavors,” but credits Nancy’s sommelier Justin Vann with guiding him to selections he can appreciate.
“I think all the natural wine lovers in Houston are really cool people, and I want to hang out with all of them,” he says. “I’ll bring the Burgundy, and I’ll drink whatever the hell they give me as long as they tell me about it.”