San Diego hits wine prestige gold for the second time in a week


For 45 years, Eddie Osterland has been alone at the top.

The first American to achieve the title of Master Sommelier, in 1973, Osterland has also been the only local wine professional to earn that top credential. Now, in the span of a week, San Diego has tripled its prestige factor, with two local wine pros reaching the pinnacle of their industry.

Just days after wine educator Lindsay Pomeroy earned a Masters of Wine on Aug. 31, San Diegan Josh Orr got the news that he had passed — after five previous attempts — the rigorous Master Sommelier exam.

With a 95 percent failure rate, the difficulty of the Master Sommelier finals was chronicled in the film “Somm” and has been likened to the bar exam or medical boards.

Orr, 35, was notified on Sept. 5 that he had successfully completed the tasting portion of the three-part process and with the theory and service parts already under his belt, he received a small symbol of a big triumph — the coveted Master Sommelier lapel pin.

“It’s a bit wild and surreal. I (heard) Wednesday morning, and it’s been pandemonium ever since,” Orr said Monday. “I’m super excited for the San Diego community. … I feel very privileged to walking in the same air as Ms. Pomeroy.”

Orr, who works in fine wine sales and education for importer/distributor Epic Wines & Spirits, said he spent the last two years tasting wines five days a week, setting a 25-minute timer to mirror the actual exam, as well as studying obsessively.

Under the Court of Master Sommelier rules, MS candidates have to pass all three parts over a certain time period or risk having to “reset,” or start from scratch. Had Orr failed the tasting section, his successes in service and theory would have been nullified.

“I was staring down the barrel of the reset gun. That was a little terrifying and definitely added pressure,” Orr said. “There were people there taking it for the ninth time. It’s crazy.”

What gave him some added confidence was a text of encouragement he received the night before the exam from Osterland.

“He said, ‘Go get it. This is your year.’ That was a really nice pat on the back,” Orr said.

Osterland, a professional speaker whose La Jolla-based “Power Entertaining” company is aimed primarily at financial service companies trying to woo wealthy customers, said he wanted to give Orr and fellow San Diego MS exam-taker Brian Donegan, a boost.

“I love to time it just before they’re about to go in,” Osterland said. “Coming from the first American Master Sommelier, it’s just enough to tip the iceberg and chill the fear. It’s an amazing amount of pressure.”

Osterland praised Orr and Pomeroy, whose Masters of Wine final required the completion of a Ph.D.-like research paper, but he didn’t read anything into the end of San Diego’s elite distinction drought, times two.

“It’s a freaky coincidence, but both of them have worked extremely hard,” he said.

Having an MS can pave the way for any number of high-paying career opportunities, he said. Only 272 people worldwide have followed in Osterland’s footsteps.

“There’s no guarantee that your life will change — it’s what you make of it,” he said. “The whole wine world is set up in New York City. There’s a ceiling on how many great sommelier jobs there are in San Diego, and what I really mean is there aren’t a lot of good paying ones.”

Orr said he and his wife, who have a 3-year-old son, were “finally fortunate enough” to buy a house in San Marcos six months ago and don’t have any immediate plans to leave. But he did plan to take the advice of his father and father-in-law.

“They said, ‘Take it in. Enjoy it — you’ll be a Master Sommelier for the rest of life, you’ve got time to figure it out.’ ”

Twitter: @sdeditgirl