Gruelling is the best word to describe it. This week, I'm helping out with the seminar week for stage one Master of Wine students. It takes place in Rust, Austria where I came as a student six years ago. It hasn't changed at all, and the flashback factor is high!
I always wanted to revisit Rust - partly to bury some of the demons from my time as a student. It is a demanding and exhausting week of work, and I found it utterly overwhelming back in 2010. Austria is a cold place in January, and the feeling over being snowed under can be both literal and metaphorical.
The program of tastings, seminars and feedback sessions runs from 08:30 to 18:30 every day, from Monday to Saturday. Friday is spent learning about pruning and viticulture in the local vineyards, in subzero temperatures - which makes a change, though it's not exactly easier. Every evening there is a communal meal either at the hotel or with a nearby producer, and the most hardy - or perhaps foolhardy - students even have a beer at the end of the night.
Being here as a Master of Wine is a far less stressful experience! Even though it involves longer hours and we don't get paid, there are several big benefits, from my point of view. Firstly, helping the students learn is hugely rewarding and satisfying, and it's something I really enjoy. Then there's the advantage of spending an intense week thinking about wine at the highest level. This covers every conceivable topic, from controlling quality on a bottling line to Greek wine tax to oxygen transfer rates.
Also, it's a good opportunity to taste and analyse wine in far greater detail than happens at any other event. Every morning the students have a blind tasting of twelve wines under exam conditions, followed by a group feedback session. This a really valuable exercise to resharpen my own tasting ability - it's the first time I've focused on wine in this way since I passed the practical exam in 2012.
Thankfully, it's like riding a bicycle: you immediately remember how to do it, but if you get it wrong, it's going to hurt!