Being an MW student during a lockdown is tough. Like other education, the entire study programme has become virtual. There are no more visits to wineries, no tastings to attend, and limited opportunities to make friends and bond with fellow students.

However, the speed at which technology has adapted to this ‘new normal’ has been quite astonishing. I am now the regular recipient of boxes of wine samples, and sit tasting exams in the spare room at home. These samples are quite ingenious. 50ml bottles of wine, decanted in an anaerobic environment to prevent oxidation and preserve quality. We pour our samples, log in to specialist exam software, and write our answers under timed conditions. This took a bit of getting used to. The adrenaline created by a room full of furious tasting and typing from fifty or so other students should not be underestimated! The enormous advantage of this new way of sitting exams is that you don’t have to endure the dreaded post-mortem. ‘What did you get for wine five?!’ people will ask, with a slightly manic air. Others will be sickeningly confident with a ‘Oh well of course wine three was a Pauillac – surely you picked up on that light note of cigar box?’.

Another advantage of a virtual study programme is that I have now visited a vast number of different wine estates – all from that same desk in my spare room. Over the past year, my study group and I have chatted with winemakers from Chile, South Africa, California, Germany, Portugal, France and countless other countries. We had a fascinating conversation with a distributor in China, who was constantly watching what he said, nervous of any overly pointed criticism of his government.

While in the past I would have been obliged to go to London for almost any important lecture or seminar, taking up an entire day sitting on the Oxford Tube, I can now simply log in to Zoom. The other huge benefit of online lectures is that you can pause them at will, and rewind points you didn’t quite get. It is also much easier to leave if things get too dull.

Throughout the past twelve months, my study group have been my lifeline. We span England, Taiwan, South Africa and Tokyo. Due to differences in time zones, we meet at 7:00am every Tuesday and Thursday morning. During these meetings we share and dissect one another’s work, being outrageously critical, the understanding that this is the best way to improve and that nothing is taken personally. Over time, this has grown into close friendships which feel none the less real for the fact that we are thousands of miles away from one another.