My Week at Wine Geek School

Joe Czerwinski's experience at Masters of Wine Seminar.


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My Week at Wine Geek School

Approximately 60 aspirants from around the world descended on Napa Valley's Villagio Inn & Spa in early February for the Institute of Masters of Wine North American Educational Seminar. The annual seminar, led by many of North America's Masters of Wine (MWs), features a six-day program of blind tastings, mock exams and lectures designed to prepare students for the Institute's rigorous 4-day exam, offered every June.

This year, I found myself part of the "intermediate" group—students who had passed the first-year program, but are not yet ready to take the exam this June. D.C. Flynt, MW drilled home that inescapable fact after our first blind-tasting session, when he told us, "You've all made the right decision [about not taking the exam this year]." Ouch. Each tasting session features 12 wines, which typically must be identified by variety and origin, then discussed (in writing) with respect to quality and winemaking—all in two hours and 15 minutes.

While tasting is the practical portion of the exam, the theoretical aspect is covered by numerous timed essay questions, covering four major areas: viticulture, vinification, business and contemporary issues. Questions are deceptively simple, but successful answers require candidates to demonstrate "mastery" of the topic, covering breadth and depth of knowledge. One question we were asked to answer: What is the relevance of e-commerce to the wine industry?

If it all sounds like way too much wine, it is—but in a good way. Attendees span the full range of wine-related occupations, from writers to winemakers and importers/distributors to sommeliers, all focused on trying to learn more about their obsession. Although seminar days start at 8 am, most are wrapped up by 6 pm, leaving just enough time for socializing and enjoying local restaurants. A shared enthusiasm for the subject pervades the group, resulting in warm camaraderie and lasting friendships.

For more information about the Institute of Masters of Wine, visit http://www.mastersofwine.org.

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