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What is it like to undergo the MW course?

Following on from the AMA session with @lockej - i asked for some insight into what black magic and secret spells you learn on the MW course.

Thank you to Jo for the insight. I think someone must’ve been listening as the fantastic @horsleym has just released this absolutely belting article all about the world of the MW student. It was a really great read. If you’ve sat any of the WSET exams, particularly the level 3 it has a lot of relatable aspects - Especially describing your tasting notes to the class (the fear!)

I would strongly recommend all of you to read this and see if you think you could handle it!

  • thank you @laura for the notification

Wow - thanks a lot for your kind words! Glad I could give a little insight into studying for the MW. If anyone has any further questions I’ll be happy to answer them…



We’ll have to get you booked in for Lunch with a Buyer… :smiley:


Fascinating! Thanks, @horsleym

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Hi @horsleym. I’ll need to have a good read at this. I remember you telling me all about the Diploma when we were on the Rhône Wine Tour. Ah, good times. Wish I was on a jeep right now, travelling through the lavender fields beside the Jaume vineyards in Vinsobres. Wonder how they’re getting on with the current situation. :thinking:


Ah, what an amazing trip that was! I still have nightmares about missing that bloody train!

Hope you’re well!


I take my hat off to anyone undergoing the MW process. One heck of a lot of work.


All good here, thanks. I’ve got a case of Society’s Côte du Rhône and of Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage on the way, this week. Heavily influenced by the trip! :+1::wine_glass:


Fabulous to read @horsleym, especially the bit about throwing the Diploma SAT tasting guide out the window… it does my head in! Very good to have an insight into the world of MW …. if I ever decide to do it. :wink:


I was thinking exactly the same about the SAT as I was reading this.

Unfortunately from my knowledge of it, I’m not sure I am willing to put myself through the diploma to get onto the MW!


I mean I’ve only just completed my WSET 2 and currently work in an industry far removed from wine, but still aspire one day to do the Master of Wine programme!

Thank you for your honesty and sharing your experiences - a brilliant article :slight_smile:



This is a really great article @horsleym thanks for taking the time to outline your MW journey (so far…)!

One observation / question if it’s ok?

I am watching SOMM TV at the moment, and there is a specific series on there called “Blind Tasting”. Anyone who has a passion for wine whether it be celebs, wine merchants, producers, restaurant sommeliers, or accredited wine experts get to examine a red and a white wine each to try and identify them both (it’s really enjoyable, something perhaps WineSoc could do for a bit of fun perhaps??)

Anyway, what struck me was the diminishing ability of the accredited experts. Like yourself, these people had studied really hard as I am sure you’ve seen in the first SOMM film, but when the exam was completed and passed (or not) it was as if the discipline and passion dried up a little as they had ventured off into other wine careers and opportunities.

Do you think, that when you become a MW / MS there should be a refresher exam that needs to be taken every 5 years or so to keep the stamp at the end of your name? In no way would I see this as being as intrusive as the original run - but perhaps a fast track version summary in each area?

Thanks - I hope you do not mind the question, and good luck on future progress!


Interesting thought, that is also reflected in any formal education.

I have a Masters (and PhD) in another field. I very much doubt I could do all the things I did during these right off the bat. I could probably get back to that point relatively quickly, but I couldn’t do them without the intense level of work/practise involved.

On the other hand, now I’ve left academia, I am a chartered professional. To maintain this I do need to do professional development and reprove my skills. Not to the level of my masters (which is useful as my charter has very little to do with nuclear astrophysics!), but I do need to maintain a portfolio to show that I am developing and keeping my skills up-to-date.

As you’ve said, peoples skills develop in different directions through their careers. The
MW, along with any other qualification is something that says “I have done this”, rather than reflecting what people might actually do now. Maybe a more charter style wine qualification that reflects more what people actually go on to do in their professional lives afterward would be more apt that being required to maintain that MW level at all times.


I think with any learning, we forget elements of what we were taught and certainly, if you progresses sufficiently in your subject, you would “get back to that point” relatively quickly

Whilst the MW does say “I have done this” it also is an opening point professionally and we all know that you go to the people with the best reputation in their field…that reputation is normally made post-qualification. I should point out that there is a level of CPD within MW as they regularly attend tastings and trips to continue their understanding of the evolving world of wine.


Very interesting to read @strawpig - if we ever sit-down and share a glass or two, I hope we get into discussions about nuclear astrophysics…

I originally had in mind how someone like a pilot has to keep up their ‘air-miles’ to maintain the validity of their license, and wondered if something similar should follow with an MW.

Perhaps a surface exam of everything is a bit intensive, so I really think it is a great concept you outline to maintain and encourage development in a chosen field or a presented career - an MW equivalent of a Black Belt dan perhaps: when you get 10 it is a given that you have offered your life (and soul) to wine education and achievement.

There is also a stigma about how many candidates are allowed to pass, or have passed. I really do not know if there is an official quota, but I thought that a re-certification or further development of some sort would keep the MW community fresh, vibrant, and active (I added ‘relevant’ here a number of times, but it just sounded like a clumsy use of a word that looked out of context).


One would hope that any profession requires something of this sort.

My own experience - from the counselling/psychotherapy field- is that if you are registered with one of the representative organisations (I was for years with NADP, but still enjoying a break from the profession though! :slight_smile:) you must complete 30 hours of Continuing professional development (CPD) a year, to ensure you are a ‘safe and informed’ practitioner.

Although this meant a serious financial investment per year - CPDs don’t come cheap! - this was absolutely accepted by all of us as a must, not only to protect clients from rogue therapist, but also because the profession is forever evolving, and you want to ensure you are not left behind. The professional development it offered me in the 10 years I’ve been counselling makes the 2 year initial training (almost) pale into insignificance…


The authenticity / fraud-protection element is something I hadn’t considered, that is a really good point. :pray:

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It’s an interesting thought and one I think @strawpig does well on answering. My honest answer would be ‘absolutely not’ (which I’m sure a few current MWs would be relieved to hear!). The MW is interesting in that you don’t do the qualification in order to get a particular job per se. Yes it’s a great way to show you’ve mastered a subject and makes meetings with new suppliers/important producers that little bit easier (I assume) but there isn’t a profession which is ‘Masters of Wine only…’. Some of the best tasters and most influential wine professionals I know aren’t MWs… Some are autodidacts and have never sat a formal wine exam in their lives.

The MW qualification is a self taught programme but it is run by MWs - they mark the papers, they do the course days, they act as your ‘mentors’, and they give up their time to go to the seminar weeks, so they do have to keep ‘up to date’ with the MW syllabus. I suppose, as mentioned in the article, the pre-requisite of having to be in the trade also helps ensure you maintain an active role in the world of wine. Although there is a recent MW who is a full-time lawyer… Bonkers.

Blind tasting is a weird one. It’s like a magic trick - you know how it is done and it’s immensely impressive to those that don’t. It’s fun and it shows you’ve got a good knowledge and (probably) a good palate but at no point in your professional career (certainly as a wine buyer) are you going to judge a wine blind. Yes people do judging at Decanter etc but that’s not a ‘profession’. So it’s natural that, over time, you forget the tricks you once knew. Doesn’t mean you aren’t a good taster anymore.

I can assure you there’s no stigma about how many candidates can/should/will pass in any given year. Yes there’s a limit to how many people get on the course, but they genuinely want you to pass once you get on it. It’s just bloody hard to do so! Yes i’m sure there’s an element of ‘Do I really think this person has mastered this question?’ whilst marking their paper but I certainly don’t believe they’ll go out of their way to fail people so they don’t exceed their ‘quota’.

Sadly I don’t know enough about the MS to comment but i’ll certainly check out SOMM TV.



is that a recent intro ? I know of a couple of people who weren’t trade that enrolled on the MW course - one was the old exams officer at my wife’s school…he would always joke that why, with his knowledge of exams, would he choose to study for the qualification with the lowest number of successful candidates ever !

Certainly being in the trade helps with the diversity (and cost) of tasting - our friend estimated back in early 2000s it cost him £15k on wine …other is to live in London or a major “wine hub” so you can get to events and broaden your knowledge

The lawyer was an interesting one…

From the experience of a friend (MW a few years ago)…Good luck with your studies !