I opened my eyes at 07:38 on a Sunday morning at Seehotel in Rust. My feet were in pain and I had a considerable amount of headache. I suddenly realized I had danced until 5 am. I was about to close my eyes again when I remembered the words of Caro Maurer: “Party as much as you want. But if you run towards the bus at 8 am and wave at me to stop, I’ll just wave back to you. So please be on time!” I jumped out of the bed, gathered my energy, put my high heels in my luggage that I hadn’t even worn and started running.
I was lucky to be there on time as there was a great panel tasting of Austrian wines and a visit to cellars of Palais Coburg in Vienna that encompasses 60,000 bottles. Now, you probably think that the whole Master of Wine seminar was full with parties, wondering around the palaces of Austria and drinking wines from great old vintages. Well, let me tell you, no! So let’s see what actually happened to 43 MW candidates for a week in Rust:)
Our day started around 7 am. We had a regular breakfast but for those who had no appetite 12 wines were waiting for us at 8:30! Almost every morning, we tasted diferent flights of wines blind and answered related questions within 2 hours 15 minutes. This simply means you have a bit more than 10 minutes per wine, which sounds reasonable at first. But the reality is different. We had to taste and analyze the wine, decide what the wine is and defend our prediction by answering two/three questions. So, the first lesson I learned was: make up your mind about what the wine is! There is no room for doubt because time is the worst enemy. Bear in mind that changing your mind at the last minute will be even worse. Like on my first day; you might not even be able to touch the last three wines!
I think many of us had good and bad days during these tastings. We simply had feedbacks after each session from a group of MW’s. Well, it was not always fun as we had to read out our tasting notes – like sharing a dirty secret with people you don’t even know! But I can see that its worth it as it’s the only way to understand what they actually expect from us.
After lunchtime, we had series of theoretical seminars. For those who are not familiar with the system, Theory consists of Paper 1 (Viticulture), Paper 2 (Vinification and Pre-Bottling Procedures), Paper 3 (Handling of Wine), Paper 4 (The Business of Wine), Paper 5 (Contemporary Issues) and we are expected to write essays for each subject. In this program, there are no lectures about soil in Burgundy or skin contact etc. The goal of the week is to understand the best way to structure our ideas and create outlines on different subjects. I think a great part was asking MW’s questions like: “so how did you manage to collect so many examples about x subject” or “which books do you advice for climate change”. It was more about exchanging ideas and trying to find the best way of learning that fits us.
It’s not everyday that one meets Jean-Guillaume Prats, the head of Moët Hennessy’s Estates & Wines division, speaking about tradition and innovation in wine. We discussed the definitions of luxury and the financial equation behind an investment in this field. How does one create a desirable brand? What are the challenges in growing markets like USA or Asia? All questions came up in different forms and it was a great chance to hear Prats’s point of view.
Another very interesting seminar was with Monika Christmann who spent many years of her life doing research on different winemaking technologies and who is currently the president of OIV. Our topic was the new trends in the wine world, which led us inevitably to climate change. We spoke about different ways to deal with increasing average temperature and more importantly the instability in weather conditions. Many questions were raised; such as how to reduce increasing alcohol levels (by finding suitable adaptations in the vineyards, using specific yeast strains to produce less alcohol, or reducing sugar by adjustments?) There are no right or wrong answers as the best strategy depends on many different factors but there is a lot to learn by having a look at her (and her students) research topics at Geisenheim.
Apart from the seminars, we had several winery trips and a pruning workshop. In the end, although many of us were sort of relieved that this hard week was over, it was also sad to leave. We had met amazing people during the week from different nationalities and backgrounds. It was the end of the trip – but a whole new beginning as we discovered many new things – especially stuff we were doing wrong until then!
So now – back to studying!
PS: Thanks to all Masters of Wine who spent the week with us in Rust in the middle of the winter! (John Hoskins, Jane Skilton, Rod Smith, Caro Maurer, Nicholas Paris, Anne McHale, Richard Hemming, Pepi Schuller, Barbara Boyle, Sarah Knowles, Eran Pick, Lenka Sedlackova, Ana Sapungiu, Mick O’Connell, Penny Richards and Olly Chapman!)