The chief examiner for the Master of Wine (MW) tasting exam is a terrifying figure guaranteed to strike fear and despair into the hearts of all aspiring MW students. So we ask him how to pass the exam. And it turns out he’s actually pretty nice, and meditates in his spare time. A lesson to us all…
Beyond that, we hear short sharp blasts of top-quality advice and insight from two of the most recently crowned Masters of Wine: Jacky Blisson from Montreal and the first Italian MW, Gabriele Gorelli.
We also get an insight into the trials, tribulations (and positive experiences) of former teetotaller now current MW student Sumi Sarma, who’s gearing up to do her big Stage 2 exams. Not only that but Mags Janjo speaks eloquently about being a prospective MW student, what winning the Golden Vines MW scholarship means to him, plus the key issue of diversity and inclusivity in wine.
Somehow we also find time to touch on the questionable wisdom of Homer Simpson, mention Peter’s Mum and dwell briefly on the importance of home-made sausage rolls and, ‘feeding the inner nerd’. We also get down on bended knee to implore you to vote for us in the People’s Choice Podcast Awards. Thank you in advance…
This is the final episode in Season Two. We’ll be storming back to start Season Three in September. Don’t go anywhere, you won’t want to miss it!
‘You have to be unaware that it’s impossible.’ Gabriele Gorelli MW
‘It’s pushed me and made me think out of my box; it’s completely stretched my personality as an individual.’ Sumi Sarma
Susie Barrie MW (SB): What do you want to see from MW students?
Peter Marks MW (PM): My three main items I look for: one is good tasting ability, not only to be able to describe wines accurately but also with a good detailed analysis. Some people can identify a wine but don’t always give enough details of why they consider it to be a particular example of a St Emilion or Gran Reserva Rioja, for example. So the first thing is having really good tasting ability. Secondly, they need to have excellent logic and deductive reasoning. So it’s often said that the tasting exam is a theory exam with a tasting. So they might have the tasting ability but they need to have the theory knowledge to be able to prove their answer. So they use their evidence from their good tasting ability and use good deductive reasoning and logic to prove their answers. That requires really good theory knowledge so they consider the different options. Many students know, at least I hope they know, they can earn marks even if they’re incorrect in their conclusions, as long as their logic is sound and they’re using correct evidence from the glass. Another thing we like to say is that when you are doing your practical exam it’s a little bit like 2 skills: to taste like a detectove, and then prove like a lawyer, so having that ability to justify your answer. So besides tasting ability, good logic and deductive reasoning, the third is the confidence. Confidence is a subtle thing that comes through, often when the best students just put their answers down with authority, they feel very confident in what they’re saying. So good example: one might write as an answer, considering different options, they might say ‘and such and such suggest’ and give a couple of options. As opposed to, somebody else who’s less confident and might say, ‘such and such could be’. A very slight change in the words but has a huge impression on the reader. Another example of confidence would be answering on maturity – maturity really is two aspects: one is how old is the wine, and one is when is the wine best consumed. If the student answers, they don’t necessarily have to give a vintage, but if they have the confidence to put a vintage down, that shows a lot of confidence and authority. So those are the things I look for most importantly.
Susie Barrie MW (SB): What’s the biggest challenge to passing this exam?
PM: I think it’s having that experience and having the ability to have tasted widely throughout the world. Understanding different styles, understanding the theory knowledge. One of the great things about this exam, that is different form other blind tastings, is that it really does consider not just identifying wines but you need to understand winemaking techniques, you need to be able to discuss quality, you need to be able to comment on commercial potential. Those are things that are so relevant to anyone working in wine industry today, and those skills are tested. Again: it’s a theory exam with a tasting.
SB: As an examiner – you’re not scary, but all examiners are a little bit scary –what is your biggest bugbear, what annoys you most that students do and don’t get right?
PM: The biggest thing, not so much of an issue any more, is handwriting! Looking at 100s of exams, trying to do justice to the students, if you can’t read what they’re putting on the paper, it’s really hard. That said, a lot of students nowadays do type. Sometimes we notice students who use computers tend to a write a little bit too much. And that leads to another issue: time management. Sometimes they’re writing so much because they can type quickly but then they don’t leave time for other sections of the paper. Another thing is, we call them the traditional howlers. When people make obvious mistakes – it’s understood that sometimes just because of your nerves you might make a silly mistake. But if they’re consistent throughout a paper or a few papers, then you really begin to doubt the ability of the student. Eg a recent student saying vintage port is aged in new oak. I don’t think so! Or people confusing Jura and Jurancon. That was in the last paper we had in2019. People didn’t quite understand those different wines from different regions.
SB: If you had one top tip for students right now, what would it be?
PM: For students now, do as much blind tasting under timed conditions as you can. If you miss it – carefully look back and say why. Don’t try to defend yourself; be honest with yourself; understand where you went wrong. Then work on those weaker skills. For me it was always mixing up Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Because they all have high acid, and can be similar. So I worked closely and arduously to find my markers for those wines. So just practising and being honest when you do make a mistake, and go back and research why that was the case.
SB: The exam is hugely stressful for students, but I imagine it’s stressful for for examiners too! What do you do to relax and unwind from your duties as an examiner?
PM: The same things as I did when I was preparing for the exam! There’s a lot of mental preparation that needs to be done. I meditate every day. I also try to get outside and bike ride here in the beautiful Napa Valley. And just breathing that fresh air…It’s also time to think and contemplate other things. And thoughts seem to come more clearly when you’re in that space. I thin that’s a good thing to do if you’re a student as well.
SB: Peter, thank you so much.
PM: You’re welcome, thank you Susie.
Susie Barrie MW (SB): What are your top tips for passing the MW exam?
Gabriele Gorelli MW (GG): Being second language, as I am, I think you need to scrub from yourself the Mediterranean attitudes and to be very concise and precise and schematic in what you do. Especially as, like me, I didn’t make any WSET education before the programme. It was just a foolish act to just start with the MW! Without having anything apart from a sommelier diploma. So you need to be very thoughtful in what you do and work in a very methodical way.
SB: You have a degree in foreign languages, you speak French and English. But as an Italian, English is not your first language, that must have been particularly difficult with something like the MW exam?
GG: Exactly. Especially because it’s not only a language thing. It’s an attitude. It’s an inner attitude that people have. So if you’re Italian you’re educated to be a bit flowery in your expression, to be Mediterranean in the broadest sense. But training for the MW, you have to be disciplined, you cannot waste words, you can’t be ambiguous so you must have your own vocabulary and use your words in a very thoughtful way. Also, speaking about the practical, a friend of mind said: ‘It’s a theory exam with a practical component.’ So you must know your theory. It’s not just about talent. It’s not about talent; it’s about training. It’s something you build. You build the theory first then you build the practical on top of that. You might be the best taster in the room but there’s no point if you don’t know the theory, you will never go through.
SB: That’s such a good point. Sometimes people see blind tasting as a bit of a party trick. But when it comes to the MW, it’s so different. Obviously there were challenges but what were the high points?
GG: High points. I think you get so much from this programme. Because you need to be very disciplined. As some point, you realise, if you want to pass, you need to do this as your daytime job. I realised this the second year I sat the exam: it was late April, I realised, you need to do this thing one day after another as if it’s your daytime job. And you change your mindset, you’re in another world, and this is especially beneficial when you come back to your actual job. And you import a lot of energy, method (the most important thing) and you have the ability to correctly dose your energies. Also this was also because I started to have a specific diet, and to wake up very early in the morning. So these are pillars of my education, of my MW course and the process, that stayed in my life. Now I’m what I wanted to be – because now I am an MW – but I’m used to work as I prepared for the MW. So it’s something that stays for you, it’s not only those two beautiful letters after your name. It’s something that you grab from the process and it’s yours, and you make the difference. You have not only another gear, you have two: the overdrive.
SB: You are like the elite athlete of the MWs! Finally, any advice for current students or maybe those thinking they might embark on the MW?
GG: Take the WSET education before getting into this crazy MW programme. Also, you need to change yourself. The main message is to change yourself. You need to be unaware that it’s impossible. For example, we were training for the dry notes, the practical. We were very long in our notes. We realised you have only a few seconds to score a mark out of the 300 marks you’re allowed in the paper. You have only a few words to do that. Then you realise, you only literally write meaningful words, and not the ones you don’t need. So at some point, you realise you can do that, but you do it in a totally different manner. And that’s the switch, the click, when you realise you can do it. Theory is the same: you need to think globally but also be very precise in what you show, because you need to show you have the global perspective on how things actually work. And then you go deeper into details. But it’s more about the communication, about what is the actual mechanism of the thing.
SB: Concision. Concise clever communication. Gabriele, thank you so much!
GG: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure. Especially because my first bootcamp was with you and Peter!
Peter Richards MW (PR): How are the studies going?
Sumita Sarma (SS): Mmmm… I don’t think any student would say: it’s going great! I think the studies are constructed in a way that you’ll always want to do more. And that’s what I have found. If you want you can take a topic and go all the way deep down and do everything, eg about malolactic bacteria, but it’s about knowing when to stop and when to start looking laterally across all the aspects. For me, it’s knitting through all of them, like handcraft, I’m quite a textured person, that’s the analogy I can use.
PR: A lovely analogy! What do you find the most challenging aspects of studying for the Master of Wine?
SS: Interesting question. What I found challenging has changed during the stages. I’ve realised it’s a dynamism in the studies. You keep evolving as a student and that’s been challenging but also rewarding in a funny way. You feel as if: I can’t do it. Slowly it builds in you and you feel: OK I’m there but I don’t know this or can’t link this to this. The dynamism is challenging. Also I used to think I’m good at a subject. We have 5 theory papers. But at this stage in time, it’s about linking across all those subjects, trying to bring out all the macro aspects across all of them. It needs a brain that’s wired quite fast! I wish I were 20 years younger.
PR We all do! How about the tasting? How are you getting on with that?
SS: Just to give you a bit of background. I’ve not done wines given my background. I only started tasting wines about 12-15 years ago, I was a teetotaller until then. So wine has been a new thing. But as I jumped into it, it was like jumping into the sea, into the deep end. Sweet and fortified wines were never my favourite, only because I find them too sweet. I’m an Asian, I like a lot of spice! On the challenge side of tastings, I’ve been really working on my Paper 3: sweets and fortified. It’s a tough one for me!
PR: The MW is all encompassing, there’s also a personal aspect. How do you find personal / financial / time side of things?!
SS: All of them are quite difficult! On the personal side, definitely this particular situation that we’ve been through, pandemic for 16 months, has been very stressful. I’m a mother of 2 grown up children, I’ve had two consecutive years, one with A levels, now a second one with GCSEs. Needless to say, both of them have had extremely difficult times. I have had to spend a lot of time with my second one. My second one came out at the start but my second one had GCSEs. I have special needs son, he’s on the autism spectrum, so I’ve had to spend a lot of time during the second lockdown home schooling him because he wasn’t able to really assimilate from the e-learning scheme as much as he could do from face to face. So yeah, the personal life impacted. Professional life was also changing – I had to change everything to videos, online. Also was a learning lesson from me. Then the academic side, which was also having to adapt too! The institute has worked miraculously through all of this, I’m sure it’s been difficult for them as well. So I‘ve told myself: I can do what I can do the best, but there’s no point getting stressed out about things. But I do want to try. Otherwise I won’t know where I stand. That’s why I’m keen to take the exam. Hopefully I don’t get Covid! That would be a complete slap in the face…so I’ve told my entire family: middle of August, I’m not seeing any of you. Don’t come anywhere near me! I’m isolating myself.
PR: Don’t come near me in August! Love that. Very positive outlook – you’re doing the right thing. All any of us can do is do our best and hope good things happen. What about positive, uplifting experiences of doing the MW studies?
SS: Lots of positive experiences actually. First of all, connectivity, which I’ve gained. I’m not the sort of person to go out to connect with a producer in New Zealand…it’s just not me nor in my character. It’s really pushed me and made me think out of my box, it’s completely stretched my personality as an individual. It’s also made me quite confident, even though I’m nowhere close to being a Master of Wine. It’s about being adaptive and being open to learning but also accepting the fact you won’t know everything but you should know most of the things. Nothing should come as a surprise, it should be ‘oh that makes sense’. It’s an additional learning rather than, ‘I don’t know about that.’ That’s how I’d like to see myself when I finish, I feel there’s a lot of development on that aspect that I’ve gained. So connectivity is one but also stimulation of the brain is also helpful. I believe this particular course is meant for a certain profile of people and you should be very very open to failing, to learning, and if you feel you can’t cope with it, first you take it slower. You don’t need to do it in 3 years. It’s about, more than the knowledge content, it’s about how you build up that ability to be resilient, and to accept defeat, but also to move on with grit. That’s the learning I take away.
PR: Really interesting to hear. Now, you’ve touched on your background a little bit. What does the IMW and wine trade need to do to improve on diversity and inclusivity?
SS: This is a very passionate topic for me, Peter, actually. I think steps have to be taken very slowly. We’re just at a stage where we are getting aware of it. There’s no fault, maybe because the industry was just constructed in this way, there was no need to do so earlier, but now there is a need. Awareness is the first stage and the most difficult stage. From awareness comes acceptance. I ‘m not sure whether we’ve moved onto that stage, we’re still somewhere on the first stage. Of awareness, then acceptance then there is the action. So there is realising what do and action. It’s a whole lot of steps and you can’t expect everything to happen in 1-2-3 months. It’s going to be slow, it’s going to be cross generations, cross sex, generation, genders, countries. There may be places where some things may not work, and we need to be open about that. I’m in the middle of it. It’s something that will take time and if you’re talking male-female, we’re still at a stage where there still aren’t enough females in the wine trade, so we’re still fighting about that. And then this is another huge piece… There’s a lot more to it: racism, countries, sex, special needs. So I’m hoping in the next 10 years things will be better. I won’t look at it day by day, because it’s quite frustrating, you don’t see results immediately. But I think we need to keep moving, the wheels need to move in a positive direction. People need to keep pushing on, and I’m very happy to be one of those people. But it will happen slowly, I’m quite practical about it, it’s a fundamental change that needs to happen. It will take time.
PR: You’ve been high profile about calling for change. You’ve worked in other sectors, like banking. Is wine a lot worse than other sectors, and what are these steps that need to happen?
SS: I’m not saying wine is worse. Wine has been much slower. It came as a schock to me. I thought what was happening in banking 20 years ago is what’s happening in wine now. We need an authority but we also need backup with regulatory, legal, paralegal, HR institutions. Also, every organisation should have a mission statement which forcefully incorporates this. If things are not happening when you’re speaking sweetly, it has to be forced upon. Sometimes things work when these things become compulsory. People will start thinking along these lines much more consciously. The point is not just to throw it onto people but people need to make conscious change. And do it together.
PR: You talk about an authority. Does the IMW have a role to play in making these changes?
SS: Yes, absolutely. The course, the MW course, is very British in origin. It moulds itself to people who’ve studied in this particular field or this style of education. I’ve come from India and the Indian education system is an offshoot of the British education system. Because we were ruled by the British. But the way of writing answers and the way of thinking is very different. That’s why I said that: everybody can do the course but everybody will have to do it at a pace that suits their background. I do agree the thinking process needs to be what it has to be. Because I don’t want to go back to my style of thinking. The way the journey has brought me in, now my style of thinking is more mature, a lot more neutral without showing favouritism, but it’s also open to more positive learning. Are there other ways of gaining that for students from a different background who have not been able to avail of this style of learning? That is something important for the IMW to consider. It will take time to develop but you need people from outside the British framework to sit down and make that change. There are a lot of Masters of Wine doing that, and I think that’s great. It should not become a qualification for elitism. It should be made as a qualification for gaining respect but not to make an elite. I don’t know if it’s the image that’s been developed, if that image is the image, it’s wrong. I’ve seen some of the best human beings in the wine industry in the form of Masters of Wine. It’s about gaining a title to be respected rather than to make yourself feel as if you’re exclusive and don’t belong to the rest of the world. I’m not in for that.
PR: Sumi Sarma, thanks you so much for joining us.
SS: Thanks a lot. My pleasure.
Susie Barrie MW (SB): What has winning the Golden Vines MW scholarship meant to you?
Mags Janjo (MJ): It’s an amazing opportunity. I’ve been in the wine trade for about 15 years or so. We did a research a couple of years ago about the cost of wine education. More often than not, people were going into wine education are taking it on as a second career. But after having gone through university with a student loan and so on, you’ve then got to pay whatever this is. And actually the number was £10-15,000, that was how much it cost to go from complete wine novice to achieving the WSET diploma. But that’s a lot of money to invest. So kinda thinking about how do we improve diversity, one of the major barriers was the financial cost of actually being able to finance it. So there was this notion of that – there’s no interest in it, that people from other ethnic backgrounds don’t have an interest in wine, we proved that to be false, with other educational schemes we put together were always over-subscribed. That told us there was definitely an interest for it. It was just that one of the obstacles to overcome was the financial challenge. So enter the Golden Vines which says: hey we’ll look for the best and brightest, we’ll take away that financial burden and allow you to go and express youself and tackle this head on. Really it’s a massive weight off the shoulders approaching the MW programme knowing that: OK I don’t have to worry about the financial stuff. But with that comes the extra pressure of having the Golden Vines back you and pick you, you have to deliver! So it’s a two edged sword. But I’m really enthusiastic about it, really looking forward to it.
SB: As a prospective student, how do you feel about the amount of work that’s gonna be involved?
MJ: You might know, Susie, I took on the MW about 2 years ago. With hindsight, it was too much too soon. In that I did 2-3-4 WSET all in space of 3 years, so from nothing to having the diploma in 3 years. And then immediately after having my diploma, I received the results in July/August, and by September I was in the MW programme. However. I’m a huge wine nerd, I have a huge appetite for consuming wine knowledge. So theoretically I could do most of what it was asking me to do. But in reality, the challenge was there is just no replacing that. So the institute’s feedback to me was: take a year or 2 off, taste more, gain some industry experience and come back. Looking back, at the time it was a real kick to the gut, I really wanted to go for it. But obviously 2 years on, I definitely needed it, to unplug from study study and to really engage with wine and try to understand it without the pressures of an exam. And now going into it I feel like a significantly more rounded student. So fingers crossed, I’m looking forward to it.
SB: What do you get with Golden Vines scholarship? You get your course fees paid but is there more than that?
MJ: Yes. So the Golden Vines scholarship is a kind of holistic scholarship. One of its kind, no one’s ever done anything like it before. It really looks at everything a student might need to pass, be it an MS or MW programme. So it comes with study, travel opportunities. There are several sponsors of the Golden Vines eg Taylors port house, Bordeaux negociants. So it comes with opportunities to travel. It’s one thing reading about winemaking from a text book. It’s another talking with a winemaker in a winery saying why do you do X over Y. So it covers course fees and links you up with mentors and links you up with people who have been there done that faced similar challenges to you. And hopefully as a student you can draw from that experience, so it’s a 360-degree view of what the MW or MS programmes might be.
SB: So, Mags, you’ve been a prominent figure in drive for diversity and inclusivity in wine. You set up BAME wine professionals with Jancis Robinson MW, which helps the BAME wine community have more visibility and access to employment. What do you feel the wine trade and the IMW need to do to improve in that regard?
MJ: In the last 12 months everyone in the wine industry will know it’s picked up this diversity baton and ran with it. It’s long overdue. I mentioned I’ve been in the trade for well over 10 years. I remember in the early days walking into a trade tasting and being the only person of colour and it had this aura of intimidation. From my experience, I felt out of place. I’d get in, taste what I wanted to taste and get out of there as quickly as possible. Because it just wasn’t, with the greatest of respect, a welcoming space. And if that’s kind of the starting point we must understand…one of the examples I gave to one of my mentors was that I was born in Cameroon, West Africa, on the coast. It’s a smallish fishing town. I explained it to him by saying: imagine if you were uprooted from UK and placed into this completely new place, how would you want the people around you to act, behave, to accept you. So we as an industry have to go above and beyond. If we want to drive diversity, we have to understand first of all what diversity is. Is it making gender balance? Or adequate representation of what our cities look like? I’ve been to tastings in Manchester or London, which are hugely cosmopolitan cities, and walking into a wine tasting it’s like you’ve stepped in to a completely different time shift. And so this industry doesn’t look like the world we live in. So that’s the starting point for: what does diversity mean and how can we make sure we’re breaking some of those barriers? We have some long-standing notions in our minds that are completely false. For example, when we were setting up BAME wine professionals, the idea was that a lot of companies in early days had resistance, saying, ‘We don’t really get interest from people from diverse backgrounds’. So we asked: how do you advertise your jobs? And the answer was: the jobs were being advertised through the same channels over and over. If you do that, you’ll keep attracting the same kind of students. So from an IMW point of view, one of the huge pools for students is WSET (diploma graduates). So the IMW now has to think: how else can we reach a wider audience, what else can we do to ensure we’re getting the best and brightest from all backgrounds? That’s a challenge they face.
SB: I totally agree. As a final question, Mags, what are your longer term aims? What are we going to see Mags Janjo doing in the future?
MJ: Winning the Golden Vines scholarship is amazing. I liken it to being accepted to run the London Marathon. Great: you’ve got the acceptance, now you’ve got to go and do it. So the next 2-4 years, knuckle down, head in book, read and study. It will mean so much Most students have gone through that. Not getting into the MW first time round was the first time in my life I’d ever failed an exam. It challenged me further. And from a commercial point of view, it’s growing MJ wine cellars and selling amazing wines to independents and supermarkets.
SB: And surely the MW would help with that?
MJ: It does. But other thing I would mention about the IMW: whether you pass or not, it exposes you to this rich background of contacts. You meet so many people and share pain together, you’re bonded by blood. Even before the programme, I’ve met amazing people who I know I can pick up the phone to and say: I’m stuck on this project, have you done this before, so I would say more than anything else the contacts I’ve built over the last couple of years have been amazing.
SB: Mags Janjo, thank you so much.
MJ: Thank you Susie!
Peter Richards MW (PR): What are your top tips on passing the MW?
Jacky Blisson MW (JB): Unfortunately, there’s no miracle here. It’s just consistent hard work.
PR: I was after a short cut!
JB: I think everybody is! But consistent consistent hard work.
PR: No more than that?
JB: What I found useful was to vary study techniques. So not always to be reading notes. But I recorded myself saying my notes so when cooking supper or walking the dog in the park I could be listening to it. I watched videos. So learning in different manners. Having a good study group was hugely important for me, because it’s a huge amount of work so if you can cut this into manageable chunks to share it out. But you need to make sure your study group are good quality. And have a varied background to cover all your bases. And getting advice, not being afraid…I have some students who’ve reached out a lot to me since I passed, others less. I found getting as much advice, as many MWs who will receive your information, like winemakers, just hit them up for information.
PR: Very good advice. What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
JB: My initial challenge was myself. When I first started studying, I was in Beaune, I studied international wine commerce. I was one of the only foreigners in the group, all the French kids were saying: why is there a Canadian in this group, what would she possibly know about wine?! So I went into the wine world with a bit of an inferiority complex. And when I got to Rust for the first seminar, first year of MW, I thought: oh goodness here I am, there were buyers for major wine chains, a male sommelier d’europe…so just getting confidence, trusting yourself and your palate, going with your instinct, took me a while to build that up.
PR: Susie struggled in Rust too. Building that up is half the battle…
JB: That’s one of the tricks. Sounding authoritative even when you’re not quite sure…to be a Master of Wine you need to sound masterful.
PR: Being plausible. One of the great secrets of life. What about your greatest high points?
JB: One of the great things for me was winning… There’s all sorts of great competitions throughout the programme, I entered one, a trip to visit all the AXA Millesimes properties in Bordeaux and Porto. So we were staying at Ch Pichon Baron, which was just amazing, visiting Petit Village, Suduiraut, doing a vertical 20 vintages back of Suduiraut, flying over to Quinta do Noval in Douro. That was a huge highlight. At one of the other seminars, Odney in UK, a great bootcamp, they had an evening of debate at the end, loads of fun, especially because we won and got amazing prices – amazing bottles of vintage champagnes, bordeaux etc
PRL Savouring moments you can relax?
JB: Absolutely. Sounds cheesy but one of best things about the programme is people you meet along the way. And at those residential, seminar weeks, and trips, is when you can get to know other students and MWs and make great friendships.
PR: To take you back to your scholarship, what would you say to people thinking about entering these competitions?
JB: Enter them all! Every single one! Even if you think you have no chance of winning. Also helps you study. For the most part, you have to write essays. You’re practising your exam technique, researching a topic that might come up in the exam, so it’s a win-win. I don’t see a downside.
PR: How would you describe this whole experience of studying the MW to someone who has no interest in taking a wine exams?
JB: Intense. It’s sort of all encompassing, it becomes your life for the period you’re studying. At times exhilarating, at times incredibly demoralising and defeating. It’s a roller coaster from beginning to end. But you learn so much. Matthew Hemming, one of the MWs at the seminars, said: ‘I knew I was ready to pass the tasting exam when I started to enjoy it.’ I thought: that’s a load of rubbish, how you ever gonna enjoy sitting an exam like this?! But it did end up happening and you have to remember that is is just wine, I know it’s lengthy and expensive process, but it is a product we all love so much or we wouldn’t be there. So getting the joy back I guess. So yeah, a huge range of emotions.
PR: It’s an interesting point, though, because I think a lot of people would say: how on earth can you take wine this seriously?! Isn’t it absurd thing to do with wine, which is essentially just something fun to drink?
JB: I think all of my friends who are not in the wine industry thought that. I had many people say to me: ‘Oh are you still doing that wine course?’ Thinking that 3 years later, maybe I just wasn’t very good at it?!
PR: Or just enjoying it so much…
JB: Exactly. I think they maybe thought we were just sitting around drinking all day! Which is a brilliant choice for a career…Which it is.
PR: Any advice for students or people thinking they might give the MW a go?
JB: It’s absolutely worth it. But you have to be ready. You really have to take the pre-requisites seriously, have a sufficient number of years of professional and educational experience in the wine trade. Get advice. Talk to people who’ve either tried or passed the programme. And really say to yourself you’re at a point in your life where you can dedicate that much time to study. There are brilliant people out there like you and Susie who will pass the first time but there are many people who will take a while to get through, so you have to know you’re making a significant time commitment over a number of years, and so you’ve really got to go in with your eyes open.
PR: ‘Lucky’ is the other word for people like Susie and me. Jacky, thank you so much for talking to us!
JB: It’s been an absolute pleasure, thank you for having me!