Things I have learned during my first year as an MW student:

  1. When talking to a winemaker, the answer to literally any question is ‘it depends’. Grapes are an agricultural product, and all decisions made in the winery are responses to what nature provides. Each year, the quantity and quality of grapes harvested depends on the conditions of the vintage and the winemaker must adapt their practices accordingly. There is no set recipe for making wine, which while sometimes frustrating for we students, is ultimately what makes wine exciting and interesting.
  2. Settle for ‘good enough’ rather than agonising over perfection. I love writing. Finding the perfect way to express a concept concisely and eloquently is, to me, one of life’s great joys. However, under the time pressure of an exam this is simply not possible. I have learnt to write functionally, factually, and above all, fast. It is no good to write a beautifully constructed argument for question one if it means you will not finish question two. The same goes for the study programme as a whole. I very quickly abandoned any aspirations of achieving top marks – one point over a passing grade will be quite enough.
  3. Blind tasting is difficult and even the experts get it wrong. After a particularly galling tasting exam, I took to twitter to vent my frustrations. ‘Has anyone else had a blind tasting experience so relentlessly awful it had them questioning the last six years of their career? Asking for a friend.’ The response was amazing. Dozens of Masters of Wine commented on my post, sharing their own most embarrassing moments. My favourite was a prominent MW who, three weeks before she sat the practical exam for the second time (and passed), missed a whole flight of Beaujolais. This doesn’t sound too bad unless you know that at the time she had been writing the Beaujolais section for Oz Clarke’s guide to wine for six years!
  4. There is no place in the IMW for wine snobbery. Before I embarked on my studies, I have to confess to being a bit of a wine snob. It happens to many of us. When you start to learn more about wine, you can become dismissive of popular, mainstream styles or producers (regardless of whether you enjoyed those same styles yourself until only recently). However, you don’t become the world’s best seller by making bad wine. There is an incredible amount of skill involved in creating enormous volumes of consistent, commercially appealing wine. The more I learn about such producers, the more I respect them.