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  • Writer's pictureAllison Sheardy

The Path to MW -- Introduction

Last week I received an email I’d been waiting for all summer – I was accepted to the Master of Wine study programme! Even now, after several days to absorb the information, it feels unreal – becoming an MW is something I talked about wistfully when I began my wine career, and I’m not sure if I ever thought I would make it this far.

The next (at least) three years are going to be intense and I’m sure I will be tested in many ways – not just in blind tasting and theory writing. I’m excited and nervous and elated and anxious all at once.

The path to becoming an MW starts long before you’re actually officially an MW student. I have to submit an application back in May, and complete an entrance exam in June. I began prepping for the exam months ago, basically after I knew I’d completed my Diploma and was seriously considering MW. Other members of my Diploma D3 study group were interested in applying, or at least in continuing education, so several of us continued the bi-weekly study group with a new focus. We started combing through past entrance exam theory questions and writing out outlines (an excellent way to prepare without actually writing out dozens of essays). We did some tasting practice, both with actual wine and dry notes. We consulted current MW students and shared their advice with each other. And of course, we provided each other with encouragement and support.

Applications are only open once a year, which in some ways helped me manage my time. The actual application wasn’t too bad – I had to submit proof that I’d completed my Diploma (a scan of my actual diploma, in this case), provide work history, and answer a few practical questions (why did I want to join the program? How was I planning on managing time?) – basically establishing that I met the minimum requirements. I also had to have a current MW complete a reference form (I am so lucky to have a local MW to offer guidance and yes, provide a reference). As with all things in the business of wine certification, there was a hefty application fee too (GBP 252).

After submitting my application, I received information on how to complete the online entrance exam. I knew I’d have to answer one theory question (taken from actual previous Stage 1 exams) and do a tasting exercise. The Institute of Masters of Wine provided guidelines on the wines ahead of time, in case I wanted to purchase and taste them – one could complete the exercise as a dry tasting if the wines were unavailable in their market. The wines were:

Wine 1: 2020 Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa, (approx. £15)

Wine 2: 2020 Vouvray Chenin Blanc, Demi-Sec, Loire, France (approx. £30)

Wine 3: NV 10yr old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (approx. £20)

Wine 4: NV Dry Oloroso, Jerez, Spain (approx. £15)

I was able to buy close enough options to make it work. I could choose between a few different theory questions (a viticulture, winemaking, or business one). Funnily enough, I ended up doing the viticulture question, which is not usually what I’d consider to be my strong suit – it was about the management of different pests and diseases in the vineyard. There are examples of tasting questions on the IMW website (one of the great things about the Institute is their transparency – all previous exams are posted and openly accessible, making practice that much easier), so I felt pretty prepared for that portion as well.

And then the waiting began – the WSET and IMW love to make students wait months for results. The IMW had actually posted exactly when to expect to hear the outcome of my application – September 6. Because London is seven hours ahead of my time zone, I figured I’d probably wake up to the results in my inbox. I felt pretty good about the application and exam, and I knew I had a good reference as well…but I can’t help second guessing and doubting myself, so naturally I’d worked myself into quite the tizzy by this point. Yes, I woke up at 3:45 AM and checked my email (nothing). And yes, I woke up again at 5:45 AM – and there it was! Total relief flooded my entire being.

The email also included a lot of details for next steps, including a link to the syllabus so that I can begin creating a study plan. I’ll be assigned a mentor next month (a recent MW grad) and have the opportunity to attend a weeklong seminar and submit work for feedback, all leading up to the first exam next summer. The first exam (called the Stage 1 Assessment) includes a blind tasting of twelve wines and two theory essays – essentially a mini MW exam. The purpose of this assessment is to make sure the student is where they should be in terms of tasting and knowledge. You must pass this exam to move on to stage two.

So that's where things stand at the moment. I know I already said this, but it feels so surreal I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the whole thing -- but I am thrilled, and eager to get started!

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