wine

Becoming An Advanced Sommelier: 6 ICC Alumni Who Have Done It!

What does it take to join the ranks of Advanced Sommeliers? Look no further than these 6 Intensive Sommelier Training graduates who have achieved this designation!

Here at ICC, our Intensive Sommelier Training program students learn how to taste and evaluate more than 300 bottles from around the world in just 10 or 17 weeks. Since ICC has the only program approved by the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas®, our students have the opportunity to take the Introductory and Certified Sommelier Examinations back-to-back, on-site at ICC upon successful completion of our program.

The Court of Master Sommeliers was established in 1977 as the premier international examining body to encourage improved standards or beverage knowledge and service. There are four certification levels within the Court—Introductory Sommelier, Certified Sommelier, Advanced Sommelier and Master Sommelier. Since the first exam in 1969, only 262 professionals in the world have earned the title of Master Sommelier—14 of them teach in our Intensive Sommelier Training program here in Soho.

To become a Master Sommelier means to pass one of the most notoriously difficult examinations in the world—you may be familiar with this if you’ve seen the documentary “SOMM”. But, that doesn’t make the prior exams much easier. In fact, it is said that the Advanced Sommelier Examination is a significant “jump” from the Certified, meaning that the knowledge level required is much greater. It takes years of preparation, dedication and experience to even be considered for the Advanced Sommelier Course—the court requires a minimum of “two years of restaurant experience in a service/sales position and must be in the restaurant/hospitality or beverage industry” in addition to having passed the Certified Sommelier Examination one year prior. To be invited to sit for the Advanced Sommelier Examination, one must have a minimum of three years of experience and successfully completed the Advanced Sommelier Course. The examination itself is broken down into three parts, written theory, practical service and blind tasting. As the last exam before the prestigious Master Sommelier Examination, the stakes are pretty high!

It is an incredibly rigorous process to join the ranks of the Advanced and Master Sommeliers. Since the inception of our Intensive Sommelier Training program, at least 6 alumni have gone on to become Advanced Sommeliers—an incredible achievement and we’re honored to play a small role in the beginning of their journey. Below, learn what it took for these graduates to achieve their Advanced Sommelier designations, what a career in wine looks like, and who’s preparing for the Master Sommelier Examinations!

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Jhonel Faelnar | Wine Director & Sommelier | ATO Company (ATOBOY NYC & ATOMIX NYC)

Graduated in 2014 Passed The Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier Exam in 2016

From Manila to Japan and finally NYC, Jhonel Faelner landed in the Big Apple to pursue his love of wine after a stint in fashion and being swept up by the wine culture in Japan. In 2013, Jhonel received scholarships from both the James Beard Foundation and the International Culinary Center to attend ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program. Upon completion of the program, he successfully passed the CMS Certified Sommelier Exams. After, he worked his way thru One Five Hospitality and the Make It Nice family at The Nomad before running the wine program at one of the country’s hottest restaurants, ATOMIX. In 2017 Jhonel was awarded ICC’s Outstanding Alumni Award for Outstanding Sommelier. Jhonel is an Advanced Sommelier studying for his Master Sommelier; he is a Wine & Spirits Best New Sommelier for 2018 and the Wine Director at ATO Company, overseeing the beverage program at both ATOBOY and ATOMIX in NYC.

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Aaron Babcock | Sommelier | Quince Restaurant

Graduated in 2012 Passed The Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier Exam in 2015

Aaron developed a deep curiosity about wine while working at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in a small town just south of Pittsburgh, PA. Having had the honor of working throughout various restaurants on the property, he honed his skills in fine dining. With wine on the mind, Aaron enrolled at ICC in Campbell, CA in 2012 to complete the Intensive Sommelier Training program as well as the CMS Certified exam at the age of 21. From there he returned to Nemacolin for a year. Soon, Aaron was offered a job at Manresa, the 3 star Michelin restaurant by Chef David Kinch in Los Gatos, CA. There he worked as a Sommelier with Jim Rollston, MS. After passing the CMS Advanced Exam at the age of 24, he became the Sommelier at Quince in San Francisco. At Quince, Aaron has been able to help expand the wine program, as well as being able to be part of the transition from 2 to 3 Michelin stars. While remaining at Quince, Aaron continues to prepare for the Master Sommelier exam and occasionally teaches wine education classes in the Bay Area. Aaron is the 2018 recipient of ICC’s Outstanding Alumni Award for Outstanding Sommelier.

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Robert Vardanian | Wine Director | Wally’s Fine Wine, Spirits & Gourmet Market

Graduated in 2013 | Passed The Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier Exam in 2017

Robert Vardanian is a sommelier and the Wine Director at Wally’s Fine Wine, Spirits & Gourmet Market in California. His career in fine wine began as a sommelier at BOA Steak and Church & State. In 2013, Robert enrolled in ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program and went on to achieve his Certified Sommelier distinction with the Court of Master Sommeliers. After joining Wally’s in 2015, Robert worked his way up and became the Wine Director. In 2017, he became an Advanced Sommelier after years of hard work. Since then, Robert has been avidly working towards higher certifications while sharing his passion and experience with his guests.

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Rebecca Miller | Sommelier | La Toque

Graduated in 2011 | Passed Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier Exam in 2017

Rebecca Miller is an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and holds credentials as a Certified Specialist of Wine and French Wine Scholar. Rebecca is a sommelier in the Napa Valley at the Michelin starred La Toque working with a prestigious Wine Spectator Grand Award wine list. In 2011, Rebecca graduated from ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program, passing her Certified Sommelier exam immediately following. Before joining the team at La Toque Rebecca was on the opening staff of In Situ, an exhibition restaurant at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Rebecca worked with the wine lists of Prima, Verbena, LB Steak, and Alexander’s Steakhouse in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Minjoo Kim | Head Sommelier | Les Clefs de Crystal

Graduated in 2013 | Passed The Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier Exam in 2017

Minjoo Kim, Advanced Sommelier, began her foray into food and wine training to become a chef and received her Culinary Arts Diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, Australia. It was during her time as a culinary apprentice that she realized her passion for wine and sought to further her education at the International Culinary Center in New York, enrolling in the Intensive Sommelier Training program. In 2013, after passing the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory and Certified Sommelier Exams at ICC, she returned to Korea to begin her wine career. Over the years Minjoo has worked as both Manager and Chief Sommelier for Hannam Liquor, retail shop and wine bar, as well as a tasting educator for the International Food and Wine Society, and Judge of the Korea Sommelier Wine Awards and Korean Wine Fair. In 2017 she passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier Exam and in 2019 was named Korea’s Sommelier of the Year.

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Jerry Cox | Sommelier | Le Coucou

Graduated in 2014 | Passed The Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier Exam in 2019

Jerry Cox is the newest ICC alum to be inducted into the elite group of Advanced Sommeliers. Jerry graduated from ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program in 2014. After passing the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory and Certified Sommelier Examinations, Jerry brought his new wine knowledge to the team at Colicchio and Sons. Today, Jerry is the Sommelier at Le Coucou. He successfully joined the ranks of Advanced Sommeliers in 2019.