£8,000 + 3yrs for 2 letters? Part 1


16 July 2015  Dated almost six years before the most recent instalment of my Diary of an MW student, here is a Throwback Thursday flashback to the first in the series. With hindsight, I baulk at how lighthearted my tone was! 

28 August 2009  Since March 2008 I've chronicled on these pages a vintage in McLaren Vale and a year in a Kentish vineyard. I decided my next epic adventure should be something a bit easier, so I've signed up for the Master of Wine course. This, therefore, is the first instalment of many that will record my various endeavours to attain the ultimate vinous suffix. I hope it will provide insight for those thinking about it, illumination for those curious about it, and amusing diversion for the rest of you.

Until this month, I had been pretty determined not to bother with it. I never doubted the prestige of the qualification, but there are plenty of successful wine authorities who don't hold it, and furthermore quite a few MWs I've encountered who struck me as bad ambassadors for the cause, with a pretentious and irrelevant attitude – the obverse of what I think wine should be all about.

If I want to be serious about my career though, and indeed want to be taken seriously, there can be no substitute for studying to be a Master of Wine. Plus, right now I have plenty of that most elusive resource on my hands: time. This is one of the few benefits of being a struggling writer with no full-time job. I also get great opportunities to travel and taste, an advantage that should prove invaluable. The one thing I don't happen to have lying around is the money – I'm budgeting £8,000 to cover the first two years. It's a weighty investment, and purple pagers can donate using the form at the bottom of the page. (Joke. A loan from Nationwide is my solution.)

The MW course for UK-based students is structured as follows: the first year of study begins in November with a welcoming ceremony, followed by a week of seminars in Austria in January. Self-study (with the guidance of an MW mentor) leads to the first year assessment in May, which is designed to assess your progress in the context of entering the second year. Assuming readiness, the second year involves another seminar week in advance of the final theory and practical exams in June. Even if you pass first time (unusual), another year must be devoted to writing a 10,000-word dissertation before you can finally brand yourself MW. En route, there are study trips, tasting sessions and essay practices, but the main requirement is a monastic commitment to solitary study.

The pass mark is high, and so is the fail rate. Nearly everyone has to retake at least one of the exams. All sorts of rumours have been mongered over the years about shadowy elitism and self-perpetuating exclusivity, which I'm sure I'll hear more of as my studies progress.

Assuming, of course, I get accepted. The entry requirements were a cheque for £2,230, four tasting notes and a short essay entitled 'The importance of alcohol in wine'. MW questions are notorious for their apparent simplicity, requiring incredible breadth and depth of knowledge to pass muster. I'll learn my fate next month. It occurs to me that this epic adventure could well be forced to abort after part two.

Fingers crossed. (That it won't be!)