TEXSOM Sommeliers Conference shares joy through wine education

Wine lovers and future sommeliers gathered at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas for the 13th annual TEXSOM Conference presented from Saturday, Aug. 12, to Monday, Aug, 14. Approximately 1,300 people attended the conference which included educational seminars and wine tastings.

James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks founded the conference in 2005 to educate people interested in being sommeliers.

“A friend and I were studying for a higher level certification with a court of master sommeliers, and we realized there were a lot of people in Texas at that time who didn’t really have an opportunity to understand what that was or didn’t know there were certifications available,” Tidwell said. “We wanted to bring people from outside Texas who were master sommeliers or others in the trade to really help educate those people to understand what it takes to be a great sommelier.”

The first two days of the conference were packed with educational seminars taught by master sommeliers. Seminar topics ranged from learning to pair beer and cheese to tasting wines from South America.

Debbie Strus attended the conference for the second time. She learned so much from the seminars last year she decided to come back.

“I had so much fun last year and got to taste some beautiful wines and learned more to appreciate wines in Texas,” Strus said. “The nice thing about some of the seminars is that you get the opportunity to taste wines from regions you never would have tasted before.”

The conference also hosts the TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition. The competition is held during the conference and includes a tasting exam, practical service exam and a written theory exam. For the tasting exam, competitors complete a wine blind tasting to accurately identify wines. The practical service exam gives them a restaurant scenario where they serve tables while being asked some tough questions about wines and beverages. Lastly, the written exam covers knowledge about all types of beverages: anything from wines, cocktails and coffee. Only 25 sommeliers from Texas or a surrounding state such as Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico can compete for title of TEXSOM Best Sommelier.

“We offer the competition in order for them to understand the level they need to be at to succeed in their certification process,” Tidwell said. “It’s a way for people to understand what they’re getting into if they want to go into the sommelier profession and help them move along in their certification.”

The winner was announced on the last day of the conference during the Grand Tasting event, which gives over 100 sponsors an opportunity to present their products.

This year’s first place winner was Andres Blanco from Houston, Texas. This was Blanco’s third attempt at the competition, and he was shocked to win first place.

“This is so special to me,” Blanco said. “It was a little unexpected because I know I missed a couple of questions, but I studied a lot and just tried to stay focused. This award isn’t just for me, it’s for all the Latino sommeliers in Houston. This is for them and all the Latino people who work in restaurants.” Along with the title of best sommelier, Blanco also received a $2,500 scholarship to be used for a Court of Master Sommeliers certification program.

“In the end it’s about three things,” Tidwell said. “It’s about education, it’s about raising our standards in our industry so we serve our guests better, and it’s about selling more wine because we love to sell wine.”