What's an MW Anyway?
Not A Somm...
Newsletter #7, some Sunday morning wine waffle.
Right, so it’s super early on Sunday morning and I’m hoping to have this sorted and ready to go by the arbitrary deadline I set myself on week one, which is 10:30am every Sunday. Wish me luck, only time will tell.
What’s an MW Anyway?
I get this a lot, even from people who work in the wine world. What's the general gist, what’s the purpose, does it mean you travel a lot, what can you do with it? Is it like being a sommelier?
Not a Sommelier.
Firstly, it’s not like being a sommelier. Somms work in restaurants, overseeing wine selections, pouring wines and suggesting wine to customers. The good ones even make daunting wine tombs more approachable, not less. To do this they need to be knowledgeable, personable and most definitely work in hospitality.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a Sommelier. I dabble in helping people choose wines for events and weddings, and I’ll occasionally host a wine tasting over dinner, but I’m not wholly responsible for managing a wine list, or routinely working on the restaurant floor.
Master of Wine is an academic qualification, somewhere between a Masters degree and a PhD*. There’s no fixed syllabus, and the main bulk of the learning is self study around the general theme of ‘Learn Everything There is to Know About Wine’. There is a Theory exams to take, and a Practical (tasting) exam. The sticking point for many is the tasting part, essentially another theory exam, but you have to figure out the wines in order to answer the questions.
What does it involve?
‘Grit and determination’ apparently. At least that’s what every single other MW I’ve spoken to has said. ‘Resilience’ comes up a lot too.
Because it’s hard work and there’s a lot to learn. The MW Theory exam covers growing grapes, turning the grapes into wine, packaging the wine and selling the wine. Finally, a paper of esoteric commentary on the wine world**.
It’s rooted in fact, understanding and grounded by experiential proof. I can’t say in an exam that “It’s possible to do x, but y is also an option”. You can regurgitate that from any decent textbook. The next step is to say “This winemaker uses technique x for this reason, while that winemaker uses technique y for that reason, while hairy Dave does whatever he wants because that’s a practical evolution of his own years of experience.”
Showing an understanding of the received wisdom, while demonstrating there’s potentially another angle, is proof that your knowledge stretches beyond textbooks and classrooms.
Then, there’s tasting, something you can’t really sit down and learn from a book or a zoom call with a winemaker, or by simply tasting hundreds of wines. It’s a methodical demonstration that you can tell what’s what.
And yes, mum, it’s ‘tasting’, and it’s a legitimate part of my job.
Once you’re an MW, what can you do?
Whatever you want, much like I could now. If I wanted to go be a winemaker, I probably would have already started by now, and being an MW doesn’t make me qualified for that.
If I wanted to work as a buyer, I could probably do that, but likely that I’d already have some experience in a buying role for a chain of shops, the MW doesn’t inherently make me qualified for the commercial side of wine buying.
I could spend my days being considerably overqualified to dish out unsolicited advice in the supermarket wine aisles to bemused fellow shoppers, but that’s not going to pay the bills.
“I can’t see the point”
You see, that’s the first argument from those in the trade that wouldn’t choose to do it. For me it’s about opportunity, I have a constant feeling of imposter syndrome. It’s easy to find people I look up to, including new MW Students, that are infinitely more knowledgeable than me. I find it very easy to waste thoughts on wondering what the fuck I have to offer to the wine world.
There’s a certain aspect in attempting the MW journey for my own damn benefit. Perhaps helping me to get comfy with trusting my own knowledge, or give me some grounding enough to stop fiddling about on the periphery of my own aspirations***.
A touch philosophical for a Sunday?
* Having not done either of those, this is probably wildly inaccurate, but it sounds about right.
** Honestly, Paper 5 is a whole Theory paper on ‘Contemporary Issues’.
*** I’m not 100% sure what they are yet either.
Some videos to watch if you want to know what becoming an MW involves, right from the IMW themselves.
The length that the super Somms go to to make sure they can taste everything.