Vincent Morrow says he wasn’t used to the feeling of failure, so when he didn’t pass his first round of master sommelier tasting exams in the early 2010s, he took them two more times. Despite putting in countless hours of studying, it felt like an impossible feat. But he was able to find motivation along the way. At the time, a fellow examinee made a comment that stuck with him for the next six, seven years.

“‘You won’t pass your advanced [exam].’ He outright said it in casual conversation,” Morrow says. “I’m not a confrontational person, and I tend to hold things in. For a moment I did, and then I went back and I told him, ‘Don’t ever say that to me.’”

Morrow wrote the inflammatory phrase on a flashcard as a motivator, boosting himself to only study harder. A testament to his perseverance, he was later inducted into the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2019 — he’s one of only 273 individuals worldwide — and became the wine director at PRESS restaurant in Napa Valley in late 2020, where he works to bring a wider portfolio of wines to guests.

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Oh, and he accomplished all this before his 33rd birthday.

In addition to his work at PRESS, Morrow is behind a force of change on the Court of Master Sommeliers America (CMS-A) — a group that has faced much controversy and criticism over the past few years. Morrow now sits as one of the few people of color on the court and, as a chairperson of its diversity committee, is leading its reform.

In the three years since Morrow joined the court, a female member was appointed as executive director — a decision that Morrow enthusiastically says is a step in the right direction of representation. The court has also adopted an antiracism pledge and a more detailed code of ethics, introduced an external hotline for reporting harassment, and penned an open letter to victims of abuse within the organization.

“It was a huge lift to put in the systems, update the practices, and make sure the best practices were in place,” Morrow says.

On the diversity committee, he joined founding members who met on an almost daily basis for months in an effort to update the CMS-A’s policies. Now, Morrow says the group is comfortable enough to put in 40 hours monthly to keep advancing things to where they need to be.

“Our main goal is to make examinations and education opportunities more equitable, more plentiful, and more diverse,” he says.

Morrow believes the court represents the industry as a whole, and he wants to open wine opportunities for more sommeliers and students. As obtaining sommelier certification can be a huge financial commitment, the court offers scholarships, mentorship programs, and outreach opportunities to reach future sommeliers where they currently are.

“One of the things we’re doing is partnering with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to teach courses. By teaching introductory courses there, versus catching people at 25 or 30 years of age, we can show people that there are people in this industry that look like me, and are successful,” Morrow says. “It just hasn’t been the case in the industry so far.”

Looking ahead at the restaurant, Morrow also intends to introduce more people to Napa Valley to “demystify” the famed region, which can often come across as unapproachable. His wide profile of work — as well as intentions for the future — demonstrate a deep passion for expanding the wine community and breaking down barriers to access. He especially notes blind spots, or groups that might not realize the opportunities within the industry that are available to them.

Above all else, he’s excited about the changes he’s seen in the sommelier community so far; as he shares with VinePair, this is just the beginning.

“We’re on the cusp of it,” he says.

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