History of the Court of Master Sommeliers

It started in 1363 with the Twelve Great City of London Livery Companies. The companies were guilds where members took care of each other before government support programs existed and were organisations with similar goals. One of those 12 companies was the Worshipful Company of Vintners. It was established to help wine import, regulation, and sales.

For hundreds of years, members of the Vintners company ran the wine trade until a series of deregulations stripped them of their power and weakened the organisation. Still, the company continued to play an essential part in the world of wine.

In 1953, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Wine and Spirits Association gave an exam about the wine trade to 21 people. Six people passed the test and were named Master of Wine. Two years later, those six people became the heads of the Institute of Masters of Wine. The Masters of Wine included winemakers, buyers, journalists, shippers, business owners, consultants, academics, and wine educators.

It did not include members of the wine service industry, and the Institute was not alone in that regard. The Vintners Company, the Institute of Masters of Wine, the British Hotels & Restaurants Association, the Wine & Spirit Association of Great Britain, and the Wholesale Tobacco Trade Association also lacked a service component. However, all the organisations needed knowledgeable service industry members to sell and serve their products correctly.

To sell high-quality wine, the organisations wanted a highly educated service industry, and the country had lacked a large professional service class since the war. To address this, the organisations gathered together in 1969 and created an examination at Vintner’s Hall in London designed to encourage Sommeliers to become credible professionals. And it worked.

By 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers had become internationally recognised. The lead-up to taking the Master Sommelier Diploma was preceded by the creation of the Advanced (level 3), then an Introductory (level 1), and finally a Certified (level 2).

By 1987 the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas was created, with its first exam in Monterey, California.

Many thanks to the World of Fine Wine for providing this article written by James Tidwell MS.

Some historical documents about the CMS’s early days can be viewed here.

Some early photographs can be viewed here.

Photos from our 40th Anniversary dinner can be seen here.