Rising the Ranks as an Advanced Sommelier [Q&A]

Another sommelier at The Little Nell has risen the ranks. Chris Dunaway, Head Sommelier at element 47, passed the grueling Advanced Sommelier exam, held in Phoenix in July.

In preparation for the test, Chris spent the greater part of the past year immersed in his studies. He shares a glimpse into all this entailed and what he’s learned along the way below.

Sommelier Cellar at The Nell

The Little Nell: Tell us about the journey from Intro to Certified to Advanced.

Chris Dunaway: The process leading up to the Advanced Sommelier exam was very long and drawn out. Ever since I passed my Certified back in 2013, it was about peeling back more layers for each wine region, which required a more significant amount of time and focus on the finer details of each place. It was a three-year process of preparation and one that required a lot of sacrifice and focus, but an invigorating journey as you learn about so many facets of each place including history, traditions – both culinary and with wine, as well as the many stories behind each producer and how they’ve impacted not only their good fortune, but how they impacted their entire communities as well.”

TLN: What type of preparation would you suggest to others following in your footsteps?

CD: If I had to give advice to Advanced candidates hopeful to sit in the next couple of years, it would be to have patience and absorb as much as possible. Study every day for a minimum of 1-2 hours even if you aren’t sitting for another year. It adds up! Carlton has said that it takes a full calendar year to prepare for the exam, but better to use wisely all of the time you have.

I would say once I found out that I would be sitting the exam, I would study about three hours a day for the first six months and then for the last six it wasn’t uncommon for me to study 10-12 hours straight on my off days and do 2-3 hours before heading to work followed by two hours of flash cards after work.That sounds intense, but you get so used to studying that it becomes habit and relaxing. In all honesty, even though the test is over I’m still hitting the books 1-2 hours a day to make sure I’m constantly engaged.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to study with others, drink wine with others, eat out with others, and really try to enjoy the process. Embrace it and immerse yourself and the rest will take care of itself.

TLN: Can you describe the Advanced Sommelier examination process?

CD: I can’t go into too much depth about the exam itself, but I can speak to the nerves and the process of staying calm and focused. There are so many nerves leading up to the exam and there’s so much relief immediately following it. Then, it’s trying not to think too much about what went wrong and switch gears to focusing on the next day. You always remember more vividly the things you did wrong than those you did right so it’s important to take it day by day. I would always take a few hours in the afternoon and talk to friends or indulge in some reruns of “The Office” – great way to stay loose.

TLN: Congratulations again – we’re all very proud of you at The Little Nell. Any other parting advice for Advanced Sommelier candidates?

CD: At the end of the test you have to know that you did everything you could to prepare and be ready to accept your feedback graciously. Whatever happens, regardless of the outcome, as a professional you have to believe that going through the process will only make you sharper and it’s important to understand that pass or fail you will have made huge strides in learning so much along the way.

To make a reservation at element 47, call 970.920.6330.