So What is This Master of Wine Thing?

THERE ARE NUMEROUS references in this web site to the Master of Wine, or MW. Just what is this anyway, and why do I keep on mentioning it?

To begin with we’ll turn to no less an authority than Wikipedia, in this case citing Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine. “The MW qualification is generally regarded in the wine industry as one of the highest standards of professional knowledge.” Basically, by the time you earn your MW you possess unfathomable knowledge about the wine regions of the world, the process of growing grapes and making wine, and the commercial aspects of the wine industry.

So how does one earn this title? According to Janet Fletcher, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, it “requires vast amounts of study time, frightening sums of money and the stomach for repeated failure.” More specifically, prospective students must first obtain a Diploma level qualification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, a rather difficult process in itself which usually takes at least three years. If the candidate’s application to the Institute of Masters of Wine is accepted then he or she can embark on the three stage MW program. Stage 1 is a year of study and papers culminating in a three-part written exam. Stage 2 consists of a year of increasingly intense study, which culminates in a four-day, two-part exam. The first part is theory based—five three-hour essays on viticulture, vinification and the business of wine, while the second part is a practical exam consisting of three 12-wine blind tastings, each lasting two and a quarter hours, in which wines must be assessed for variety, origin, winemaking, quality and style. These are notoriously difficult exams. Most candidates fail and must sit for them again, which requires another year’s study. Finally, should the candidate pass both the theory and practical components, and here I stress the word “should” as most candidates never pass both, stage 3 is a research paper of between 6,000 and 10,000 words. The whole qualification cannot take less than three years to complete in full but in reality takes quite a bit more.

And that is why there are only 356 Masters of Wine in the world. The MW degree is a rare designation that indicates that its holder possesses an unrivaled level of expertise in the wine industry. Impressive to say the least, and a worthy credential after what is usually a decade of arduous study.