A glimpse inside the MW student experience
Across the world, there are 360 Master of Wine students, which is roughly the same as the number of MWs themselves. Most students are studying towards passing the theory and practical (aka tasting) exams, while the (much smaller) proportion who have already passed these move on to stage three, the research paper.
Any candidate wishing to sit the examination must attend a seminar week, which provides the most concentrated content of the academic year. They are held in Australia, Austria, the US, France, Germany and the UK, where I am the coordinator for the seminar held at The Odney Club in Berkshire. This article gives a flavour of what that seminar week is really like.
The Odney Club is a private country club owned by the John Lewis Partnership, one of the Institute of Masters of Wine’s longstanding supporters via its Waitrose subsidiary. With several buildings and enough bedrooms to house up to 90 students, MWs and IMW staff, it is the ideal facility for a residential course.
The large grounds run alongside the river Thames, while seminars and tastings take place in the on-site conference centre.
Each morning normally consists of a 12-wine tasting paper followed by a group feedback session. Students are responsible for setting up their tables, ready to commence the tasting at nine o’clock.
Once everything is ready, students are given two hours and 15 minutes to answer questions that usually require identification of some or all of the following elements: grape variety, region of origin, vintage, alcohol, residual sugar, winemaking techniques and commercial appeal.
During the exam practice tastings, invigilating MWs meet to discuss the wines and agree what are the most likely and logical options for students’ answers. Pictured below from left to right are Emma Symington MW, David Forer MW, myself, Ying Tan MW, Barbara Boyle MW and Sarah Jane Evans MW.
Glassware for the week is provided by Sensible Wine Services, who install a wall of 6,500 Riedel glasses.
In the afternoon, a programme of tastings and seminars are designed to cover as much of the MW syllabus as possible.
This year included an Australian Chardonnay masterclass by Justin Knock MW and a viticulture session led by David Forer MW.
Across five days, nearly 150 different wines are opened, with more on hand for dinner each evening, as well as plenty of options for eating and drinking in the pubs and restaurants in the local village. It’s an intense week that can be exhausting, but which hopefully provides the maximum possible learning and practicing opportunity.
When I was a student at Odney in 2012, the experience was fundamental to my re-taking and passing of the practical exam later that year. Being able to return as an MW and provide that same benefit for the current intake of students is an integral part of the MW ethos: it’s a feeling that combines satisfaction and relief in equal measure.