16 new MWs. Do we care?

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
So many breathless tweets and messages today, to stand by as the 'excitement bubbled over' for the imminent announcement of 16 new MWs. All the tweets coming from the Institute, or other MWs as far as I can see.

So, is it just me, or has the mystique and reverence that once surrounded MW dissipated a fair bit? Maybe its just because I know so many :)eek:) or maybe it's because I'm not one :)cool:), but really, I couldn't honestly care less and it doesn't pique my interest in the slightest.

We have some eminent MWs here who will presumably see things a little differently, but for me, I remember the semi-mythical status it conferred on Jancis Robinson 30 years ago for example, but now it just does not resonate.
 
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I agree, feels to me that it’s something you almost need to do for a career in the trade these days, most Merchants seem to have at least one. There are exceptions but many of the MW writers sound a bit the same these days and are a bit dull and technical.
 
feels to me that it’s something you almost need to do for a career in the trade these days, most Merchants seem to have at least one.
As originally conceived, that was its whole point - it was a trade qualification for people who sold wine. Only later did writers and others aspire to it. Jancis had a background in journalism, and I believe she was one of the first people (possibly THE first) from outside The Trade to become an MW.

It is fair enough to respect academic and vocational qualifications, but I agree that the degree of hype surrounding the MW (and MS) is way over the top. If you think working to get an MW is a long and tough slog, try getting a PhD in a subject like theoretical physics from scratch.
 
I'm pleased for the new initiates, because I know how hard they have worked and they obviously wanted it badly. I'm also sad for those who have not passed. There will be some brilliant tasters and very knowledgeable wine folk feeling very down out there.

I will say one thing. Some here know I have a WSET Diploma but that I made a decision not to attempt the MW. This was for several reasons, but I am pleased I didn't for me personally. This is because there is a MW way of looking at wine which I cannot wholly slip into. Even the more outward looking MWs I know have a certain something that restrains them from appreciating wines which do not come within the confines of the doctrine.

I do not merely mean natural wines. I'm speaking of the relative values of grape varieties, the value of pleasure over analysis, and attitudes towards environmental issues and especially potentially dangerous chemicals, among other things. MWs work in all parts of the "industry" (from the likes of Jasper, a World Authority, to someone working for a supermarket or advising suppliers who undertake UK bottling etc), so of course their views are not all the same. But what I can never get "most" MWs I know to do is really let go.

As for the "breathless" messages, wine can be a little like the theatre in that we all like to be chummy and get on as a little club. I guess I can be guilty of being friendly and warm to people for the mere fact of their profession. Working for the MW is hard, and I think potential MWs get a lot more support from their peers and those who have already made it than they used to.

I think "MW" doesn't resonate in the same way as it once did, not just because their numbers are growing, but because the wine world is a much wider entity than it was, and the tastes of many younger drinkers can sometimes be quite dramatically different to that espoused by the IMW. Partly this is because perceived quality just costs too much sometimes. The reverence older drinkers hold them in is perhaps not quite so strong among younger drinkers outside the trade. They have other non-MW gurus to follow. But we should remember that to a MW their qualification often represents the pinnacle of their ambition, towards which they have striven and gone without. It remains a massive achievement.
 
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Possibly my biggest regret was turning down the opportunity to study for the MW when i received honours in my WSET Diploma over 20 years ago. I had the time and the brain back then but just assumed not being in the trade would make it too hard. Still don't think I would have passed but I was at peak geekiness at the time so I'm sure I would have learnt a huge amount, which is always a good thing. I can understand Tom's sentiment but I'm still slightly in awe of anyone who does pass.
 
But what is the MW actually for? I dont care whether my wine merchant has a MW in-situ or not. In the age of t'internet doesn't the acquisition of relevant knowledge become easier and reduces the need for such exams? I dont really care where my wine merchant gets their knowledge from.
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
I'm definitely not doubting the effort and achievement, and I know for a fact that having MW after your name opens doors and increases 'worth' for those who have it. So my post is not meant to knock the MW; it is about the resonance the qualification has for me, and how that has changed over time. Because I make my living in wine I wondered if I was unusual in that, or whether other serious wine lovers felt the same.
 
I've been pondering whether to chuck my hat into the ring on this one.

For a while I felt that the biggest challenge to the IMW was maintaining relevance and I believe that has been addressed by ensuring the programme (notice I don't use the 'qualification' word as it's too loaded) confronts issues and questions faced by the contemporary industry (horrid word but 'trade' is too parochial). This encompasses all sorts of things, from elucidating the quality / qualities of high volume commercial brands, to climate change, the ethics of water use, alcohol regulation, HACCP and QA procedures, non-conventional faming methods, the roles of women in wine, emerging markets, etc, etc. Perhaps a consequence has been that many MWs are significant figures behind the scenes of the trade, around the world, rather than public figureheads. I, for one, am happier being part of a professional institute that is so relevant than I would be if it was something more akin to a club where we drink nice claret (not that I'd object too much to the claret!). Of course, despite what I've just written, I don't think you can pass without a strong understanding of the classics.

There are only just over 400 MWs worldwide, as of today. Joining that number has got to be worth something celebrating - not that I think anyone here is questioning that. Personally, I'd even allow the odd self-back-slap. When I passed, someone told me that more people had been into space than passed that exam and I fully admit to feeling rather smug.

@David Crossley forgive me, but you must know some very up-tight MWs. Of those who post here, I don't think any of us is backward in enjoying the pleasures of good hooch - from Muscadet to Montrachet!
 
I've been pondering whether to chuck my hat into the ring on this one.

For a while I felt that the biggest challenge to the IMW was maintaining relevance and I believe that has been addressed by ensuring the programme (notice I don't use the 'qualification' word as it's too loaded) confronts issues and questions faced by the contemporary industry (horrid word but 'trade' is too parochial). This encompasses all sorts of things, from elucidating the quality / qualities of high volume commercial brands, to climate change, the ethics of water use, alcohol regulation, HACCP and QA procedures, non-conventional faming methods, the roles of women in wine, emerging markets, etc, etc. Perhaps a consequence has been that many MWs are significant figures behind the scenes of the trade, around the world, rather than public figureheads. I, for one, am happier being part of a professional institute that is so relevant than I would be if it was something more akin to a club where we drink nice claret (not that I'd object too much to the claret!). Of course, despite what I've just written, I don't think you can pass without a strong understanding of the classics.

There are only just over 400 MWs worldwide, as of today. Joining that number has got to be worth something celebrating - not that I think anyone here is questioning that. Personally, I'd even allow the odd self-back-slap. When I passed, someone told me that more people had been into space than passed that exam and I fully admit to feeling rather smug.

@David Crossley forgive me, but you must know some very up-tight MWs. Of those who post here, I don't think any of us is backward in enjoying the pleasures of good hooch - from Muscadet to Montrachet!
I wouldn't say they are uptight, and I do know quite a few, but they do seem mostly quite conservative with a small "c". I know many who do enjoy Muscadet and Montrachet, but not so many who have a deep desire to explore the genuine outer reaches of the wine world. Not too many who would see Hanspeter Ziereisen's Gutedel 10 Hoch 4 as world class, not many who see the sheer excitement in the wines of Czech Moravia, not many who jump at a visit to Viki Torres on La Palma and so on. And again, we all know a fellow MW refused to review Liz Gabbay MW's book on Rosé Wine because they said Rosé isn't real wine (or was it proper wine?).

However, in the same way that Donald Trump likes to portray the Democrats as "left wing", the sheer breadth of my interests probably seem radical beyond the Pale to a lot of wine lovers, MW or not. So I guess we all have different perspectives. Nevertheless, as I said, I have massive respect for MWs on so many levels. But certainly MW's are not the people who should judge their own relevance to the wider world of wine in the 21st Century?
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
But certainly MW's are not the people who should judge their own relevance to the wider world of wine in the 21st Century?

Well, they're definitely not relevant to the wider world!!! If Jancis Robinson is relevant to one in a thousand people I'd be surprised (in the UK that is - maybe one in 100,000 in the wider world!), then your 'average' MW must be relevant to an awful lot fewer :D.

Outside of those who write, as a rule you do not see trade MWs at retailer tastings. David's point about their interest in the more peripheral areas of wine is a fair one I suspect, but I see very few MWs attending the Waitrose or M&S tastings, let alone Morrisons, Sainsbury's or Lidl. How 'in touch' they are with the average wine drinker is a moot point, but of course it's arguably that they don't have to be. I am painfully aware that this forum is a very select sub-set of wine drinkers - very, very far from the 'average' wine drinker - and unless writing about wine for a tabloid or buying wine for a supermarket, I imagine most MWs occupy a similarly esoteric space.
 
I wonder if being an MW is what it was 10 or 20 years ago. Back then it was the pinnacle of wine expertise, at least in the UK.

However, the wine world has changed a lot in 20 years. It's a lot more global for a start. The British wine trade no longer holds prime position, nor are the styles of European wines and the grapes they were made from, considered with such reverence as before. There are Master Sommeliers in the USA, Oenologists with PhDs and professorships in France and Australia, Wine Consultants with incredible client lists, popular and exciting wine writers with no formal qualifications and a whole swathe of new wine enthusiasts who have far more interest in who is making the coolest Natural or Orange wine than the Appellations and Chateaux that an MW has to memorise.

So I ask myself whether the IMW has become a guardian of a tradition, like the Byzantine court or the Freemasons, that studies and preserves the wine expertise of the past rather than the present. Or perhaps we should be looking to this new generation of MWs to guide us all back to the core of what great wine is all about and refocus our attentions on the traditions and history on which all wines are based.
 
I think my point about relevance was poorly made: I believe the IMW is relevant and seeks to be relevant and that is the reason I continued studying for 6 years, because I thought it was worthwhile joining. I suspect the relevance to the wider world that Tom mentions is under the radar - be it making, buying or marketing the wines that the wider world drinks. Consider the MWs in senior positions at the top importers, supermarkets, etc. I'd say they have quite a big impact on many consumers' experience of wine and that's just in the UK.

RE supermarket tastings, I'm pretty sure there are MWs behind the scenes (or have been until recently) at M&S, Sainos, Lidl and Waitrose. Not sure about Morrisons. So, they may not be in the front rank, but they're doing the buying, QA and product development. James might want to chime in on this but I'd also understand if he doesn't! I also know there are more than a few interested in the hinterland reaches of wine - when trips still happened there were visits to Georgia, we're very regularly in Austria, there's ongoing and significant interest in Greece and people like Tim Wildman making Pet Nat in the Riverland. OK, all those are still relatively mainstream, but what about Idaho Chardonnay and the like championed by Mark Savage or the work Mark Andrew's doing at Noble Rot?

It's far from my job to defend the IMW, I just feel it's broader than perhaps many people realise.
 
Maximum respect for the talent and hard work of those who achieve this and I'd love to get the chance to see how they taste interpret wine and question as I dont really know any MW.

I just hope the remuneration matches the work required (although I suspect it probably doesn't in most cases).
 
So, is it just me, or has the mystique and reverence that once surrounded MW dissipated a fair bit? Maybe its just because I know so many :)eek:) or maybe it's because I'm not one :)cool:), but really, I couldn't honestly care less and it doesn't pique my interest in the slightest.

No. It's probably that you're used to seeing these announcements twice a year and the novelty has worn off.
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
No. It's probably that you're used to seeing these announcements twice a year and the novelty has worn off.

Possibly! A bit like the constant stream of emails from wineries, expecting me to be interested/inspired/rushing to celebrate that their Cuvee Ennui has just been scored 94 points by XXXXXXXXX critic, magazine or website :)
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
RE supermarket tastings, I'm pretty sure there are MWs behind the scenes (or have been until recently) at M&S, Sainos, Lidl and Waitrose....

Just for clarity, there are indeed MWs buying the wines or perhaps consulting on wine production at various supermarkets. I expect they will attend their own employer's tastings. But I wasn't referring to them: I was referring to all those other MWs who don't attend such tastings, purely out of interest to see what is being offered at £5.99 - £10.99 to 95% of wine drinkers.

It's far from my job to defend the IMW, I just feel it's broader than perhaps many people realise.

No, and not my job to attack them - which I hope I have not been seen to be doing! :)
 
It is fair enough to respect academic and vocational qualifications, but I agree that the degree of hype surrounding the MW (and MS) is way over the top. If you think working to get an MW is a long and tough slog, try getting a PhD in a subject like theoretical physics from scratch.

So hats off to anyone who has slogged hard enough to get both MW and a PhD in biochemistry, for example
 
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