Category Archives: Master Of Wine Studies

My Hand is on the Handle but the Anticipation is Killing Me!


If you have ever watched Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen then you know what the photo above is.  Two finalists waiting to find out who ultimately won the challenge.  They are both asked to put their hand on the knob of the door in front of them and try to open it.  Only one will open.  Usually there are cuts to recap each one’s journey to that point, both highs and lows.  Moments of triumph and moments of weakness or stress flash before the viewers eyes set to emotionally stirring music.  Presumably they are reflecting over their journey as they wait patiently with their hand on the handle of their respective doors.

That is me, right now, with my hand on the handle.  In 27 days I find out if my Research Paper was successful for my Master of Wine.  Ten long years I have been working towards that day and now that it is nearly upon me, I’m not really sure how to feel.  I’m nervous but excited.  I’m relaxing in some ways but strung tight in others.  I’m looking forward to the future but feeling equally concerned that it is premature even though I feel very confident in what I turned in.  While it is not a competition, it is a journey that few complete and in the end it is a competition with yourself to become your best.

While it is not a competition, it is a journey that few complete and in the end it is a competition with yourself to become your best.

The paper itself was a beast to write.  Many of my loyal readers may have noticed that my blogging and other writings went dark for a long time early this year.  This was entirely due to my focus on writing the multitudes of revisions of what ended up being a very detailed study.  The details can not be shared yet however, I believe it stands to move winemaking forward as a whole while maintaining our strong ties to tradition.  I look forward to seeing the global reaction to the paper, the results of which are relevant to any winery producing fine wine around the globe.  By the time it was completely finished, I had gone through 14 drafts of the Research Paper Proposal (RPP) and over 20 drafts of the paper itself between major and minor revisions.  I’m quite proud of the work I put into it and I feel confident that it is solid.  However, my mind keeps slipping back to the times I felt confident about my MW exam results and I didn’t get good news.  I feel almost conditioned to expect the worst but at the same time I dare hope for the best.

As for my highs and lows, I came into the program as most students do, riding high on the mere inclusion into the storied echelons of MW students.  I listened to MWs say it takes on average 5 years to get through everything, thinking to myself that I was going to work diligently to make sure I passed everything on the first try.  When the first year assessment results were announced, I turned my sights onto the exam itself and studied with a fervor.  It became my life and by the time I sat I felt confident that, at least for theory, I had mastered everything that was needed to pass.  Ultimately I did not.  I ended up in a gut wrenching mourning in the middle of Asti’s Block 1 Cabernet Sauvignon a few weeks before harvest, leaning on those old vines for support and grounding.  That first fail was the first of many which took me to the very edge of my determination, cut my self confidence to the bone, and tore down all my pre-conceptions of what it meant to be a good student.  Most of these trials and tribulations were chronicled on this blog under the category of Master of Wine Studies.  After 8 years of blogging, this will hopefully be my last post under that heading.

The program is a blacksmith’s forge and hammer; heating and striking, striking and heating until all that is left of the person that came in is a confident, strong, example of a wine professional.

As I look towards the future, I have to be optimistic.  I know I will become an MW.  Even if it is not in a few weeks, it will happen.  The program is a blacksmith’s forge and hammer; heating and striking, striking and heating until all that is left of the person that came in is a confident, strong, example of a wine professional.  It hurts.  It is painful. Nevertheless it has been worth it.  I can look back and be proud that I have made it this far through the forger’s flame.  I know the depths of my determination and I know that I am the only one who can hold myself back from accomplishing anything.  I know if I don’t get good news, I will return to working just as hard to make sure that next time I get there.  But I will get there.

My hand is on the handle and I’m praying the door will open for me this time.

What Do You Do with Leftover Wine?

This is a subject very near and dear to my heart.  Even though I make my living making wine and being surrounded by the alcohol industry, I am not a particularly frequent drinker.  I’ll have 2-3 glasses per week with only one of those typically being on a week night.  Most people are surprised by this.  However, this usually means that I have partial bottles that are open when my husband and I get the urge to open something. Then we are torn as to what to do with the leftover wine.  Inevitably whenever someone brings this question up the industry jokes follow.

“What’s leftover wine?”
“We don’t have that problem in MY house!”

Let’s face it. From a health perspective, unless we have 3-4 people with whom we are sharing the wine a typical bottle should last more than one day.  This is something that is an issue for our industry but so often it gets swept under the rug and having “leftover wine” is something that is ridiculed and laughed at.  So here we go.  Here are two options for wine lovers who want to open those special bottles but don’t want to worry about finishing it before the inevitable exposure to oxygen starts to degrade the wine.


The first is called Private Preserve (Buy it here on  This is one I’ve used for years and is a mix of CO2, Nitrogen, and Argon, three gasses which are very common in wineries.  It is a must have for making white wines at home in carboys and really works well for keeping wines that have been opened from going bad.  I purchased the bottle in this photo two years ago.

“We are starting this journey by reducing the $1.27B of wine that is poured down the drain at home, plus the additional 18-24M bottles dumped at restaurants.” – Ryan Federickson, General manager of ArT-18

The second is called ArT18 Wine Preservation System (Buy it here from the company’s website).  This one is pure Argon and does go farther than the average bottle of Private Preserve because of that.  This one is new to me and was sent to me as a sample to test. Ryan Frederickson, General manager of ArT-18 Wine says “The company I founded has a mission to decrease waste using sustainable technology.  We intend to take this technology to food preservation. We launched ArT Wine Preservation this past December with an engineering background in the argon industry.”

To tested both head to head I had the perfect opportunity when I hosted several fellow MW students who wanted to work on their Practical Exam skills.  I put 3 full mock exams together (36 wines total) ranging from $6.00 per bottle to close to $200.00.  We gassed each of the wines after the exams with one of the two products.  The mock exam weekend was about a month ago and I have been slowly opening the bottles to try them over the past month.

Long story short, both work really well.  Even this evening, after a month a half full bottle of 2010 Haut Medoc  was fresh and very drinkable.  The one wine that did not do well under the preserving gas was a 2003 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru.  Admittedly this one tasted a bit over the hill when it was just opened but after two days under the gas it had started growing a film yeast like coating and going very south flavor wise.  Even the floral white wines which stayed under gas and open in our fridge for 2 weeks were still fresh and drinkable.  The reds we left on our counter with the corks stuck in the bottles and continued to sample them and then re-gas over the past month.

“Even the floral white wines which stayed under gas and open in our fridge for 2 weeks were still fresh and drinkable.”

In conclusion, we should never feel like we need to finish a bottle of wine in one sitting just so it doesn’t go to waste.  With these two home gassing methods, wines can stay fresh for a long period of time and you never have to worry about opening too many bottles to try.

Insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over…

One of the most common questions that I have encountered over the past few weeks is “What did you change?”  What did I do differently this time that I didn’t do the other 5 times that I sat the exam.  It’s hard to pinpoint an exact one or two things.  In truth, I changed a whole lot about what I was doing, however it’s hard to say if changing these things would have made a difference if I hadn’t done the other things that didn’t work the first 5 times.

Anyway, here are the things that I thought made the most difference.

I went all in. I said to myself “I am NOT doing this again!”

Having multiple attempts gives one a certain level of comfort.  You end up mentally saying to yourself “Well, I’m going to give it everything but at least I have X more attempts if I don’t pass.”  As soon as you start to mentally say “if I don’t pass” you are not going to.  I went into this year with the personal objective of all or nothing.  If I only passed half, I still was done.  There would be no more attempts.   This personal goal gave me extra urgency to get it done in one shot.

I changed Mentors

I have been fortunate to consider many MW’s my mentors even beyond the formal “mentor program”.  This year I was taken under the wing of DC Flynt, who whipped me not just into tasting shape but SUPER READY, EVERY POINT COUNTS, DON’T THINK THAT EVEN A TINY SLIP WILL GET YOU BY tasting shape.  He nit-picked every word, phrasing, and structure of my answers.  I didn’t do more tasting than I did in previous years but the tasting that I did was far more highly scrutinized to the point where my answers were scalpel sharp and short.  Get in, get points, get out.  Done.

I gave up doing Theory Essays

Now don’t for one second think that you can come into this program and not write a single essay and pass the theory on your first try.  You can’t, so don’t think that is what I’m saying.  I wrote essays for EVERY SINGLE QUESTION from the exams 2000-2011 during my first few attempts and I passed in 2012.  The fish bowl technique is fantastic for getting to know what you need to know.  I just was at the point this year where I knew I could hammer out an essay in the time limit easily if I had a great mind map.  I wrote the three or four required essays for the formal Assignment Marking Scheme but that was it.  Everything else was was mind mapping.  I fishbowled the questions from 2012-2015 and mind mapped like crazy.  No essays.  You cover more ground in a shorter amount of time and I was able to go into the exam ready to cover whatever they could throw at me.

I was Hypnotized

No Really!  I was!  I went to a Hypnotist at ROC Hypnosis (See her website here) and she helped me understand what was holding me back mentally.  It took two sessions which were incredibly enlightening and relaxing.  She asked me questions like “What would be the worst thing that happened to you if you passed?” I had never contemplated that before and it opened up some mental blocks that I had put on myself that I had never thought of.  I was able to mentally let go of all the stress and worry that was holding me back.  It was incredible and I highly recommend it.

I Prayed

LOTS!  I am a Christian and I believe in the power of prayer so I spent two hours in the Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church the Monday before the exam.  I attended mass, sat and meditated, read scripture, and even prayed to St Rita, Patroness of Impossible Causes, because I knew I could not accomplish this task on my own. I am not Catholic but this particular day it felt right like the right place to be.  Now I’m sure there are some who will read this who don’t believe, that think this was just something to make myself feel better.  I will not judge you for it because everyone is entitled to their own system of beliefs.  I also am acutely aware that I am not perfect, so I try to be as good of a person as possible and not bible thump on a regular basis.  However, I can tell you that I had not prayed as fervently in the past as I did this day, with a desperation that I can truly say I had not felt before any of the other exams and I felt that God was with me in those hours and finally gave his blessing for me to pass.

So that’s it. I did the best I could and really went for it.  I removed every mental block that I had put on myself and had nothing else to lose.  I put it all in God’s hands and gave up the thought that I could accomplish this impossible task on my own.  I’m so thankful that I got good news finally and am so excited (and still pinching myself) to be a Stage 3 student!!!!

Best of luck to all that are still striving for the exam!  I hope this helps in some way.