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  • Richard Hemming MW
Written by
  • Richard Hemming MW
8 Jul 2015

See also the 2015 MW exam paper.

Cruxes - those moments when fate is hanging in the balance - arise all too rarely in the professional life of a wine freelancer. Never have I had to choose between the red pill or the blue pill. Never have I been asked 'take the money or open the box?'.

Generally, the most anxious decisions I face in daily life are along the lines of 'ooh, Muscadet or Chablis?'

So I let my finger hover over my laptop for a moment, relishing the moment before I pressed the button, the point from which there would be no return. I thought back over the last 12 months during which I have been writing my research paper.

It requires an extraordinary amount of work. Even settling upon an appropriate research question takes months of trial and error, of brainstorming, discussion and refinement. Then, crafting an effective proposal involves feasibility testing, which essentially means executing your entire research methodology.

My proposal was duly approved with no amendments required, which is doubtless because I had prepared it in meticulous detail. I could then proceed with the literature review, spending day after day in the British Library and online, looking for information pertinent to my subject. Then came the bulk of the primary research, an endless to-do list of people to contact, data to organise and details to validate.

Then over these last few months came the brain-bending task of writing up all that work and shaping it into something coherent and concise, and preferably interesting as well. Applying cold, hard logic to such an enormous volume of work when you've been immersed in it for months requires supreme concentration. Finally, there has been weeks of proof-reading. I consulted a professional editor and a statistician to check the work, and I re-read it myself at least half a dozen times.

Towards the end it seemed like every time I looked, I found something else to tweak. I had reached the point when I was no longer improving it but obsessing over irrelevant details. After something like 250 hours of work on the paper, the time had come.

Finger still hovering, I then thought back over the previous five years I've been studying to become a Master of Wine. I remember my naivety and casualness when I started. The creeping fear of realising what lay ahead. The elation and despair of blind tasting. The camaraderie of seminars in Bordeaux and Austria and the high tension of exam week.

I also considered all the ways I've benefited from this marathon. It has provided me with an understanding, knowledge and appreciation of wine that I could barely have imagined when I started. I've developed ability not just in tasting but in writing and argument. I've also learned how to research to a professional standard – a quite unanticipated skill.

Perhaps above all, I've discovered a Zen level of patience and dedication - without which the MW course would be nigh on unbearable.

I checked the email again. The final version of my research paper was correctly attached. 

I pressed send.

The result of all this angst, a path I started out on six years ago, will be announced on 7 September.