Women triumph at this year's WSET awards


Who won what on Monday evening at London's Guildhall. 

This year’s WSET awards and graduation ceremony was a particularly poignant one. CEO Ian Harris began the evening at which more than 60 awards were made to students and educators by the great and the good of the wine trade with a tribute to the late Gerard Basset. He drew everyone's attention to the crowdfunding drive for Gerard's memoirs.

Gerard’s widow Nina and student son Romané were in the front row as he showed the picture below taken two years previously of all five of the Trust’s honorary presidents with Ian Harris. Now we are reduced to four, photographed at the Moët champagne reception after this year’s awards. Left to right in the picture top right are Hugh Johnson, me, Michael Broadbent MW, Ian Harris and the current honorary president Steven Spurrier.

What was notable as the evening progressed was how many awards went to women: 35 to the 28 won by men, according to my calculations. Most impressive!

For the third time, the Outstanding Alumni Award sponsored by JancisRobinson.com was presented. Diploma graduates across WSET’s global network are invited to vote for who they think should win. The award aims to celebrate and nurture a WSET Diploma graduate who is making a notable contribution to the wine industry. The nominees are chosen by the WSET International Alumni Advisory Board and approved by me. Diploma graduates across WSET’s global network of alumni are then invited to vote for who they think should win. The dominant female theme continues, even though I have nothing to do with the initial selection of nominees.

Previous winners are Isabelle Legeron MW, champion of natural wine, and Sarah Jane Evans MW, Spanish specialist and past chair of the Institute of Masters of Wine. This year’s nominees, in strict alphabetical order, were:

Nova Cadamatre MW (USA)
Nova is a graduate of Cornell University’s Viticulture programme and, after achieving her WSET Diploma in 2010, became the first female winemaker in the USA to be named a Master of Wine in 2017. Having made award-winning wines in Finger Lakes, including under her own brand Trestle Thirty One, she is now Senior Director of Winemaking for Constellation Brands, Napa, leading the teams for Robert Mondavi, The Prisoner, Mount Veeder, Schrader and Franciscan. Named in Wine Enthusiast’s 2014 Top 40 Under 40 and a silver medallist in the Ningxia Winemaker Challenge 2017, she is also a writer and senior instructor at WSET Approved Programme Providers.

Caro Maurer MW (Germany)
Caro started her career as a correspondent in New York and Los Angeles before moving back to Germany to become lifestyle editor for the German edition of Forbes magazine and later, national newspaper Die Welt. In the early 1990s she went freelance and now specialises in food and wine articles for local and national titles. She completed the WSET Diploma in 2005, as Germany’s top graduate, and went on to become a Master of Wine in 2011. When not writing, she teaches the WSET Diploma, hosts educational tastings for international wine associations and consults for Edeka, Germany’s biggest supermarket chain.

Rhys Pender MW (Australia/Canada)
Having worked in the wine industry since he was a teenager, Rhys has built his career across a wide range of roles from educator, judge and writer to grape grower. He achieved his WSET Diploma in 2002, holds a Professional Culinary Diploma, and in 2010 became Canada’s youngest Master of Wine. Originally from Australia, he now owns a four-acre vineyard, Little Farm Winery in BC, Canada, and teaches WSET courses through his school, Wine Plus+. He judges at international wine competitions and contributes to Canadian wine publications, and was also named in Western Living magazine’s Top 40 Foodies Under 40.

Pierpaolo Petrassi MW (UK)
Born in Britain of Italian parents, Pierpaolo followed his father into the wine industry in 1983 and worked his way up through sales and buying roles for Carnevale Group, International Wine Services, Waverley TBS and Tesco. Graduating in the WSET Diploma with honours in 1999, he went on to become the first Italian Master of Wine in 2007, and has been Head of Buying for Beers, Wines and Spirits at Waitrose since 2010. He was Chairman of the Italian Wines Committee of the Wine and Spirit Association for seven years and has been consistently listed in Drinks Retailing News’ Top 100 Most Influential People in Wine, placing first in 2018.

Fongyee Walker MW (China)
Having led the Cambridge University Blind Wine Tasting team to victory in 2004, Fongyee moved to Beijing to co-found WSET APP Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting with Edward Ragg. Achieving her WSET Diploma in 2008, she is now a specialist wine educator and consultant in English and Mandarin and provides the only WSET Diploma course in mainland China. She became the first professional in mainland China to gain the Master of Wine in 2016 and regularly judges Chinese and international wine shows, writes articles, consults for the Chinese industry, and is the host of WoknWine, a bilingual show about travel, food and wine with over four million views.

This was a very impressive line-up. And for the third time the winner was a female Master of Wine, this year German wine communicator and educator Caro Maurer MW, shown below with Steven and me.