Ghosts of a bygone era move swiftly outside the window of the ferry. Stark silhouettes against the evening sky of the rusted metal and broken glass that once were the ship yards on Mare Island. I can only imagine how busy they must have been in the 1940s and 50s. The sky fades from a deep orange to indigo as I contemplate what I’ve been doing with my life over the past 7 years. In 2007, I had an idea, as I sat in my office, in a winery capable of producing 15 million cases per year, trying to figure a way to make myself a better winemaker. I decided to become a Master of Wine. Not to try to become one but to actually do it. Well, at this point I still haven’t gotten to that goal. My struggles have been well chronicled through this blog. Right now it is the night before the MW seminar. The one week per year that all the students converge on several cities around the globe together with MWs to learn, study, share ideas, and go away better prepared to attack the Master of Wine exam in June or whenever they plan to take it. I have sat the exam now four different times and in less than 5 months I’ll sit it for my fifth and final time. This makes the next week my final seminar as an MW student. I am calm and collected. I feel prepared. One can’t ask for much more than that. On Saturday morning I will take my mock practical exam which will be graded and the result will set the tone for my remaining time between now and the exam in June. For now, I’m savoring the moments before the seminar. Before the exhaustion of tasting blind almost non-stop for a week sets in. Savoring the time now, when I’m still excited about the opportunity to study alongside and learn from some of the best and brightest minds in our industry today. Tonight, staring out at the now black night blanketing the San Francisco Bay, I am savoring the possibilities. Ever the optimist, I’m looking forward to my next seminar. My next seminar won’t be as a student but will be as an MW.
I’m learning how to drink wine again. Now, I know that might sound strange to lots of you but hear me out. I’ve been making wine for 10 years. I’ve been studying it intensely for the past 7 and due to being super paranoid about being a good Mama I really haven’t been drinking wine for the past two years. Say what you want about pregnancy, breast-feeding and wine consumption but I was not going to take ANY chances with my little boy! I would indulge in a small sip here and there once my son was born before bed but I’ve only recently started having a glass a few nights a week again. Those who know me really well know I’ve never been a big drinker. I don’t like the smell of alcohol so I stay away from spirits completely. Studying for my Diploma Unit 4 was interesting. I’ve only through my studies come to appreciate fortified wines but it is only a few times a year I might actually choose to drink one. A “most interesting man in the world” quote would be appropriate here. I don’t always drink fortified wines, but when I do I prefer Madiera. You get the picture. However, I only realized this past weekend that I haven’t been drinking wines to enjoy them, only to study them, for quite a while. There are wines I love such as Chablis, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and Burgundian Pinot Noir that I haven’t actually enjoyed a glass of in almost three years. I haven’t ordered my stock supply of Finger Lakes Riesling in two years. That has to stop and its going to stop now. Sometimes you get so wrapped up in learning as much as you can about wine and forget to actually enjoy it. I’m going back to my original inspiration for enjoying wine, not surprisingly from a man who has influenced my career heavily even though I never had a chance to get to know him beyond a chance meeting.
“Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living” – Robert Mondavi
Now that harvest is over, I must once again turn my attention to preparing for the Master of Wine exam next June. Yet again, I’m at my last chance to pass the exam. However, this time next year, I will have passed and will be working on my dissertation or I will have failed and won’t have to worry about the exam. There are only two options this time and neither involves me taking the exam again after June. There is a comfort in that.
There are three of us at the same point in the program and although I’m the only one of the three on my last chance, we are calling ourselves “The Three Musketeers”. It’s nice to have company on what is inevitably a lonely journey. For me, I am as determined as ever. I have changed mentors and have cut up and folded the questions from the last 10 years of practical exams. I was stunned to realize the last 4 of which I actually sat so I will be rewriting exams I’ve written before. My hope is, that by using the same technique as I did to study for theory, I will be able to anticipate the questions for this June’s exam. I’m also sure that by honing my writing technique I’ll be more efficient with my time during the exam, allowing me to spend less time thinking of my answers and more time actually dissecting the wines themselves.
Finally, this year will be the most challenging as I try to juggle the demands of the program with being the mother of an active toddler, wife, and full time winemaker. This harvest has been one of the most challenging due to the extreme compaction and the fact that the life with a baby eliminates the simple down time after work that I’ve used in past harvests to recover from long hours at the winery. I went into the harvest more energized yet more tired than ever before and I have come out on the other side very happy with quality and exhausted. We worked hard to capture the essence of this vintage and I feel that we succeeded. Hopefully the MW program will use a different part of my brain to give other parts time to rest.
Only the next 7 months until June!