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March 17, 2021

The Hardest Wine Exam in the World w/ Mark de Vere MW

The Hardest Wine Exam in the World w/ Mark de Vere MW

The hardest wine exam in the world, an elite community of >400 wine professionals, and learning how to engage with wine more. All those elements are used to describe the Institute of Masters of Wine and the Master of Wine (“MW”) exam. Mark de Vere MW te


The hardest wine exam in the world, an elite community of >400 wine professionals, and learning how to engage with wine more.  All those elements are used to describe the Institute of Masters of Wine and the Master of Wine (“MW”) exam.  Mark de Vere MW tells us about how becoming an MW landed him a full-time job in Napa to all the rigors required to pass the MW exam.  A must listen to episode for those thinking of applying for the MW program or those who just love learning about challenging wine exams.  

Detailed Show Notes: 

  • Mark’s background
    • He grew up in Oxford, United Kingdom
    • Studied wines through a wine tasting group at university
    • Worked at a local wines shop in Oxford
    • Worked harvest in Australia, did Wine & Spirit Education Trust (“WSET”) exams
    • In 1997, he had a summer job at Robert Mondavi, passed the Master of Wine exam during that time, and was hired on full time and still at Robert Mondavi / Constellation Brands
  • Institute of Masters of Wine (“IMW”) background
    • Currently, 418 Masters of Wine, >490 have passed the exam over time
    • Started in 1953 in London as London was the most globally-focused wine trading hub in the world
      • ~20 people sat the exam in 1953, with 6 passing, was only open in the UK at that time
      • The purpose was to measure who was a master of the overall wine trade
      • 1st non-UK residents were Australians and Americans who went to the UK to work and sit the exams
    • Now a global institution - MWs in 30 countries, exam offered around the world (London, California, Australia), head office is still in London
    • The mission of the IMW - to promote excellence, interaction, and learning in the global wine trade
      • Interaction through tastings and the MW Symposium (held every 4 years)
      • Excellence and learning through setting the MW exam
    • Not an educational organization like the WSET
  • IMW vs. Court of Master Sommeliers (“CMS”)
    • MS has a more laddered programs (i.e., more levels before the master level)
    • MW has no practical, service element
    • MS exam is oral, MW is all written
  • The MW Study Program
    • Goal: to help orient people to understand what the end goal is - to gain the depth and breadth of the challenge of the MW exam
    • Need to know every step of the wine business, from the vineyard to wine landing on the table
    • 3 Stages
      • Stage 1 - 1st orientation to the program, has the Stage 1 assessment - proving you can understand the issues, 12 wines blind, 1 set of theory essays
      • Stage 2 - preparation for the MW exam, which is 3 x 2.25-hour blind tasting exams with 12 wines each, 5 x timed theory exams
      • Stage 3 - research paper, developing something new for the world of wine
    • There are time limits for getting through the program now, ~5 years, with the goal of not getting people stuck in it
  • Pass Rate of the MW exam
    • Used to say ~10% of people that sat the exam
    • Hard to calculate a rate due to people who sit multiple times, and you can pass certain portions of the exam
    • IMW actively trying to increase the pass rate by making it more difficult to get in and sit the exam
    • ~15-20% of people who enter the program actually complete it; ~75-100 are admitted to the program each year and ~10-20 people become MWs each year
    • Value of the program, if you don’t complete is learning how to understand the issues around wine better, engaging with wine differently, and building communication skills
  • More people are applying for the MW program and it’s becoming a more global program
  • The IMW and diversity
    • The exam is completely blind, making it unable to discriminate via grading
    • Conduct outreach to all parts of the world to generate a diverse pool of candidates
    • ~150 female MWs today
  • Being an MW
    • Titles do carry some weight within the wine world
    • Got Mark a permanent job at Mondavi after being hired for only a seasonal position
    • Join a community of MWs, where giving back to the wine world is one of the core tenets
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