Category Archives: Master Of Wine Studies

Master of Wine Exam Week 2015

This week, many students from around the world will converge on three cities to sit the rigorous 4 day long exam for the Master of Wine. I have mixed feelings this week. This is the first time in 6 years that I haven’t been prepping to sit myself. I have numerous friends who will be there yet I will not. There have been several key learnings that helped me in my quest that I though would be good to share with those sitting this week.

1) Don’t overthink the question and don’t get bogged down in the weeds.

2) Make a point then argue the counterpoint to make your point stronger.

3) Don’t volunteer more than the question asks.

4) Don’t forget, it is possible to be correct but inappropriate. (Calling Viura “Macabeo” is correct  but not for Rioja) Don’t make my same mistake!

5) Remember, when you are trying to overcome the panic of not knowing what the wines are, start writing. Much of the exam can be answered by tasting the wine but not knowing the origin and most of the time you figure the wine out as you go along.

6) It is wine. We are not curing cancer or doing brain surgery. When you get stressed, just remember that.

7) Compartmentalize! When the two hours and 15 minutes is up for Practical paper 1, forget it and turn your mental strength to viticulture (Theory Paper 1). When that is over, forget it and start thinking about the next part.

8) Stay away from toxic people.

9) Don’t change your plans at the last minute. Your technique has gotten you this far. Trust it.

10) Don’t listen to past MW students lament about when they were in the program…Oops. Too late for you if you are reading this.

Best of luck to everyone sitting! Go crush it! Most of all, enjoy the feeling of possibilities in the three months between the end of the exam and the results coming out. That was always the toughest time for me. This year, however, I am waiting for something that I haven’t waited for in a long time. I’m waiting for the applications to come out to get back into the program. I have some unfinished business with the exam and a year from now, I plan to be sitting the exam yet another time. Hopefully for the last time.

Is Wine Losing its Prestige Image?

While I was at Unified two weeks ago, during the State of the Industry talk, Jon Fredrickson of Gomberg, Frederickson, and Associates was giving his Wine Market Update.  I wrote down one sentence that didn’t really strike a chord with me until I was typing up all my notes from the sessions I had attended, earlier last week.  There, buried as the fifth and last bullet point under the justifications as to why wine is dropping placements on- premise was this sentence…

  • Wine is losing its prestige image.

As I retyped this sentence into my document, the MW student side of my brain took over.  This would be a great Contemporary Issues question for the MW theory exam when changed to this…

  • Wine is losing its prestige image. Discuss.

Now obviously this is not a question since there is no question mark.  That is the tricky thing about MW exam questions. There is often what I like to call “hidden questions”.  Questions within questions and unless one can figure out how many questions you are REALLY answering one does not have a chance at passing.  There are three hidden questions in the statement above.

  1. What is a Prestige Image?
  2. Does wine have a Prestige Image?
  3. Is wine losing whatever Prestige Image it does have?

One could also add a fourth question to answer as well.  4) Is this a bad thing for the wine industry?  The general opinion I gathered is that Frederickson seemed to think it was.  Now customers going to restaurants and bars have other options to choose from such as craft beers and spirits.  Wine listings by the bottle are down 16% year over year and by the glass options are down 12% according to research done by Charles Gill of Winemetrics in Fairfield, CT. However, later in his talk Frederikson eludes that the decline seems to be focused on the low end of the market (wines below $9.00) and that above that, the premium category is still growing.

Which brings me back to the questions above.

  1. What is a Prestige Image?

There are two definitions that one must consider here both from Webster’s Dictionary.

Prestige = Widespread respect and admiration felt for someone or something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality.

Image = a representation of the external form of a person or thing.

Therefore it is safe to conclude that a Prestige Image is defined as widespread respect and admiration felt for a representation of something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality

        2. Does wine have a Prestige Image?

Among wine industry folks I would have to say that it does.  However, we are not the majority of the population that we would like to think that we are.  Again, according to Frederikson’s talk 40% of the population of the US doesn’t drink any alcohol, at all.  I would venture a guess that among the 60% that ARE drinkers the predominant drink of choice is likely to be beer or spirits just based on the cultural significance of these beverages which is greater in the US than the cultural significance of wine.  Now there is plenty of evidence that wine DOES have a prestige image in our culture if one looks at wine’s placement in movies, television, and books.  In these Medias, it is generally highlighted as the drink of choice for the influential and wealthy. In turn, this makes it an aspirational drink for those who may not live the lives that are highlighted in these vignettes.  It turns wine into the drink for special occasions and celebrations rather than the everyday luxury that wine marketers would love.

3.  Is wine losing whatever Prestige Image it does have?

Wait? Isn’t this what marketers have been wanting for years?  For customers to become more comfortable choosing wine off of a wine list for their casual date night or to bring home for dinner with friends.  The picnic wines or wines at the beach meant for wide accessibility with creative packaging that are meant to compete against beer and wine coolers.  Now we are surprised when craft beers and ciders have decided to use the wine model but position themselves at a more budget friendly price point?  The very fact that sales of wines above $9.00 continue to grow is evidence that wine is NOT losing the prestige image that it holds in the minds of consumers.  The issue is that craft beers and ciders have been able to also don the cloak of a prestige image and have ended up being far more accessible to the everyday consumer.  Budweiser even took aim at this philosophy during their Super Bowl commercial recently (See it Here if you missed it) trying to distance themselves from the craft beer movement by positioning craft beers in a “snobbish” light.  Paste Magazine breaks down this ad in spectacular fashion here if you are interested including pointing out that AB-Inbev actually owns craft breweries.

Awkward…

Anyway, the underlying issue is not that wine in general is losing a prestige image.  It is that wines sub $9.00 are losing market share by customers are turning to other beverages in the same price points that are perceived as slightly more prestigious.

     4.  Is this a bad thing for the wine industry?

Not really.

For makers and marketers of wines above $9.00/ 750mL, congratulations!  According to Charles Caleb Colton , imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so continue doing what you’re doing but just be aware that other beverages are starting to imitate your “terroir” focused marketing and authentic story by highlighting the people behind the “craft” so to speak.  Don’t get comfortable.  It’s only a matter of time, particularly at the lower end of this price zone, before craft takes aim at you if it hasn’t already.

For makers and marketers of wines below $9.00/ 750mL, consider this your warning shot!  You can no longer think of your competitive set as wines only.  You are making a beverage.  You have consumers that consider if they should have a casual glass of wine, a craft beer, or a cocktail with dinner.  However, this shouldn’t be depressing.  It is an opportunity to embrace new technologies, innovative packaging, and a history of an industry that was the “Original craft beverage”.  So interlace your fingers, crack your knuckles, and get a nose to the creative grindstone.  This segment of the market just got a whole lot bigger so these brands are going to have to fight harder for attention.

This is just my two cents…  I would love to get other opinions on this!

  • Wine is losing its prestige image. Discuss…

 

Wandering Through Germany: Part 3 – Mosel

Our final stop in Germany was, of course, the Mosel. None of the pictures prepared me for the sheer beauty of these vineyards. Steep slopes dug into rock with little but rock for soils in the best sites. Iconic German architecture reminiscent of Oktoberfest in quaint villages tucked along the stunning, swiftly flowing river was a sight to behold.

Website size Mosel Pic

Our first stop was to Weingut Willi Schafer, an unassuming building tucked away in a relatively residential looking villiage, where we were hosted by Andrea Schafer. We tasted several bottled wines first then toured the cellars afterwards to taste the most recent vintage.

2004 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese – Stone and Chalk

All flinty and minerally with a linear palate that is weighty and lean at the same time. Lemon lime fruit and a hint of white flowers with 70g/L residual sugar cut through with racing acidity.

2012 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese – Zesty and Fruity

Warmer fruit than the 2004 with fresh apricot, lime zest but continuing with minerality on the palate, 70 g/L residual sugar and racing acidity.

Andrea told us that the most recent vintage (2013) was more suited for the off-dry style due to a high level of botrytis influence. “We make the wines but nature decides what style we will make.” They try to interrupt the fermentation at the right time to achieve the proper balance in the wines. “When you have too much sugar you lose the elegance and the terrior.” We asked for her interpretation of the different styles of Riesling and she gave us the following.

Kabinett – Light and fresh in style with less richness than Spätlese.

Auslese – More honeyed notes and a very rich style.

Spätlese – A lighter more spritzy style than Auslese but with extra richness and depth above Kabinett.

There were two top highlights of my trip to Germany.  The first was an amazing dinner with Dr. Uli Fischer of the Neustadt Research Institute with awesome food and conversation that ranged far beyond wine to economics, philosophy, sports, politics, religion, and every other topic under the sun.

Our next stop in the Mosel was definitively the other top moment.  We were treated to a personal tour of Weingut Dr. Loosen with Ernie Loosen.Dr. Loosen Arch

 He first took us for a quick jaunt around their vineyards in his Range Rover. They own 10 hectares split into 184 different parcels, the smallest of which is 15 vines. This is of course thanks to the Napoleonic code that affected both Germany and Burgundy very similarly. The government in Germany, however, is trying to remedy the situation by introducing a “reorganization”. They are killing several birds with one stone in typically efficient German fashion. Each vineyard involved must have buy in by a majority of the owners of the vines. The owners agree to give up a maximum of 10% of their land to the government to build roads to traverse the steep slopes for machinery to be more easily moved about. The government builds the roads and regrades the slopes to allow for mechanization with crawlers. Each of the owners then gets a consolidated section of the slope equal to 90% of the number of vines they owned prior to the consolidation. The upside is the vines are now all together rather than spread out over the slope and are able to be mechanized to some extent. The un-reorganized slopestake 2-3,000 manhours per ha and the reorganized slopes take 1/3 of that time. The downside is that it is expensive costing $30-40,000 for the vines however the government is subsidizing this and offers the ability for the owners to pay the balance with a 10 year interest free note which is held by the government itself. With a labor shortage being the biggest problem in the Mosel any level of mechanization is helpful. It takes a single crew a full day to pick the equivalent of 1.5 acres because of the treacherous slopes. Standing on top of them I wondered why anyone would be willing to haul grapes up and down them.  Another downside? How can you be sure the vineyard will not be changed?  Ernie assures us that not all slopes will go through with this plan just for this reason but it is a huge undertaking for those that have.

Website size NC and Ernie Loosen

After our vineyard tour we went back to the tasting room and went through several amazing wines.

Dr Loosen 2012 Riesling Trocken Blauschiefer (Blue Slate) – Zesty and Fruity

Very elegant and fruity with a subtle minerality. Flavors of white peach and apple with zesty linear acid. Fermented with indigenous yeast in a 1000 Liter Füder with 12-24 months on lees.

Dr Loosen 2012 Riesling Troken Rotschiefer (Red Slate) – Zesty and Fruity

More spicy and floral, almost Gewurztraminer like with fresh acid and a rich palate balanced by a steely mineral backbone.

Ernie stated that these two wines needed lots of air to show their best and generally needed to be open for 3 days to fully experience the flavors.

He is also working on lots of different winemaking techniques in the winery such as extended lees contact as well as different types of fermentation vessels. He offered as an example where after the 3rd century the Romans switched to oak barrels for fermentation because they showed better quality than the amphoras. “We need to learn the old ways so we can make them better” when talking about reviewing ancient winemaking practices.

Erdener Pralat Wines

Dr Loosen 2011 Erdener Prälat Riesling Alte Reben Reserve– Unbelievably Unique

Fruit from 120 year old vines planted on a steep, rocky red slate filled, southern facing slope of the Mosel fermented in neutral oak and aged on lees for 12 months. This wine is highly complex with intense aromas of white flowers, peaches, and slate with a rich sweet profile with enough acid for a dry finish. The palate brings spiciness reminiscent of pepper and cinnamon with intense weight. GO FIND IT!!! It’s amazing and a wine which every winelover should experience once at least!

Dr Loosen 2011 Erdener Prälat Riesling Alte Reben – Zesty and Fruity

Restrained nose with flavors melon and tropical fruit with all the richness on the palate of the sweeter translation above. The finish brings more mineral characters and additional tropical fruit notes with slightly less spicy intensity than the reserve.

Dr Loosen 2012 Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese (Gold Capsule) – Zesty and Fruity

Amazing intensity for fruit with pineapple, melon, grapefruit, and honey complemented by an equally intense rich palate which is weighty and long. It is sweet at 110g/L but is easily balanced by the zesty 9 g/L of acidity!

All in all it was an amazing day and a fitting end to a whirlwind trip through Germany’s three wine regions. I can’t wait to go back to spend more time getting to know the wines and the people who make them.

Mosel Vines Website size