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He passed the hardest test in wine. Now Max Kast is NC’s only master sommelier.

Former Fearrington House wine director Maximilian Kast, right, passed the master sommelier exam. In a photo from 2016, Kast poses with Fearrington’s beverage and service director Paula de Pano.
Former Fearrington House wine director Maximilian Kast, right, passed the master sommelier exam. In a photo from 2016, Kast poses with Fearrington’s beverage and service director Paula de Pano.

Maximilian Kast, former wine director at the Fearrington House in Pittsboro, has reached one of the most prestigious and difficult mountaintops in the wine world.

On Wednesday, Kast became one of just a few hundred master sommeliers on the planet, and the only one in the Carolinas.

“I just started tearing up,” Kast said of getting the good news. “It’s been kind of a long process for me, an emotional process, thinking of how much effort and time it takes away from you. To have it all come together is just a range of emotions. All of them happy.”

The Court of Master Sommeliers trains wine professionals and sets a series of exams testing wine theory, service and blind tasting. The levels progress from certified to advanced to master, with training for the final stage sometimes compared to the amount of study it takes to get through medical school.

Kast passed the introduction course in 2006, certified in 2007 and advanced in 2009.

This was Kast’s eighth attempt at the master exam, having passed all three sections in the past, but not within the required three years.

It’s been a few years since North Carolina could claim a master sommelier, since Fred Dexheimer left the area after stints at Standard Foods and the Black House. Kast credited the region with a number of talented wine pros and believes there will be more masters soon.

“This is an awesome wine community, a great community of wine drinkers and collectors,” Kast said. “I don’t want to be the only master sommelier in North Carolina for a long time and there are a number of people in this area who can get that.”

Kast was one of 24 new master sommeliers passing the exam in St. Louis, out of 56 candidates, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers. The exam is often broken into different sections, with theory and service taking place earlier in the year. Wednesday’s exam was the blind tasting, where candidates had to identify six wines down to the grape, country, region and vintage based solely on sight, smell and taste.

Kast is modest about his own skills, but acknowledged the staggering amount of knowledge it takes to pass the exam, calling the theory portion “pretty Herculean” in needing to know about history, culture, agriculture and production methods in various regions.

“This achievement is really difficult, but I couldn’t have done it without the community here,” Kast said. “So many people have helped and supported me.”

Kast got his start in wine and hospitality in Montana and came to Fearrington in 2007 as a sommelier. The next year he was promoted to the resort’s beverage director and ran its cellar and wine program for the next eight years. In 2016 he moved on to work for wine importer Broadbent Selections out of Richmond, Va.

Once they pass, all the successful master somms toast themselves with a glass of Champagne. But since, Kast has largely stuck to beer, savoring the Sierra Nevada hop-bomb Torpedo IPA and the Belgian trappist masterpiece Orval. Now at that mountaintop, Kast suggests not much is likely to change.

“I’m super happy doing what I’m doing,” Kast said. “I’m traveling and getting people excited about the wines I love.”

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