Twas the Day Before the MW Exam…Again

Here we are again.  I am getting ready to sit the Master of Wine examination for the 6th time.  It’s interesting because it now seems like just another day in the life of an MW student.  I can look back to my first exam and I was so excited and slightly nervous driving to the exam, my thoughts of almost certain passing scores running through my mind with the blind optimism that I had at the time.  That was 7 years ago and with each attempt my mindset has changed from excitement to dread and everywhere in between.  The positive aspect of having to sit multiple times is there is no longer an uncertainty of what to expect. I have a routine of sorts.  Today, my task is to see how long it takes to walk from my friend’s house to the exam site and to procure lunch for the next four days.  I usually scope out a place for food and order the same thing for all four days and pay up front with a specific pick up time each day so that I can pack up from the morning exam and calmly walk out of the building to my pre-determined lunch spot, walk in, grab my package and walk calmly out.  On these challenging days, it helps to not be panicked about “Where am I going to eat? What am I going to eat? Will it be ready in time? Will I have to wait anywhere?”  Any level of stress removal that can be done will be done.

Tomorrow, I’ll get up and try to arrive with plenty of time to the exam site.  I hope I can walk with no issues however hauling glasses and my computer up and down the quite steep streets of San Francisco may prove to be too much in the mornings. We’ll see on my explorations today.  I know exactly what the room looks like because I’ve been there before just like I knew what to expect when the exam was held at Opus One in Napa.  In 2012, when I passed my theory section, the winemaking position had just been posted for Robert Mondavi Winery and there I was sitting in Opus One getting ready for the first day of the exam, 5 months pregnant with Nathaniel doing somersaults in my womb, staring at photographs of Mr. Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild feeling like fate was laughing at me in some way, daring me to try for more.  This time with the exam being held at the Constellation Office in San Francisco, I can’t help but feeling a little bit of the relaxing feeling of playing on your home court even though I’ve never had an office there.

This time I’m sitting the entire exam again; both the tasting and the theory sections.  It is a marathon.  Four full days of doing nothing but thinking solely about wine and typing for hours on end.  I am not the only lunatic in the world doing it either!  According to Penny Richards, Executive Director of the Institute of the Masters of Wine, 138 students of the 310 total in the program are sitting this year.  It is a record number of people sitting the exam at the three locations around the globe; London, San Francisco, and Sidney.

If you are interested to see what my fellow students and I went through this week, look for the exam details to be released on June 13th, a week from today.  I find out results on September 5th which is Labor Day in the US so I’ve decided that must be a good sign that I will already be off of work and celebrating on the day that I get them.

Best of luck to all my fellow exam takers! Here we go again…




Thinking Pink: The Intricacies of Making Rosé

It’s summer. The weather is warm and if you are like me, your thoughts are turning to more white wines rather than the hearty reds of winter. There is one style which is making a statement this season however and that is Rosé. It’s a beautiful mix of the lightness of a white wine with a bit of classy structure hinting of its origins as red wine grapes. In Provence, one of the world’s foremost Rosé producing regions, exports to the US have risen for 12 straight years with rapid growth in 2015 according to the Wines of Provence organization. The sales data from Nielsen also confirms that rose sales have risen not only in volume by over 50% but value as well over 60% for imported Roses. However, the love of Rose is not just a US phenomenon. Approximately 9% of all wine sold in the UK are rosé wines as well, surprisingly over half of which originate from the US! According to the Drinks Business, over the past 12 years global rosé consumption has increased 20%!Much of this increase arises from rosé’s easy to drink style and ability to so seamlessly pair with foods which require more structure than whites but a lighter body than a red would provide. It also stems from the “pink is for women” stigma finally being shed as dry rosés are being seen as serious wines beyond the sweeter blush styles popular in the 1980s and 90s. So how does Rosé manage to bridge the worlds between white and red so successfully? The answer lies in several different winemaking techniques, each with their own result which can be used independently or together to achieve a desired style of Rosé. There are three main ways to make rosé; Skin Contact and Pressing, Saignée, and Blending.  


Skin Contact and Pressing


This method is unique because the sole purpose of this method is to make rosé. Unlike Saignée which has some side benefits, this method is employed when a winemaker wants to completely control the amount of structure and color in the rosé to the fullest. It starts by selecting the desired grape variety. In the south of France, such as Tavel this would be Cinsaut or Grenache. In Spain, it would be Garnacha perhaps with some Tempranillo. In the Loire, Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir may be employed while in the New World, the entire world of reds are open for experimentation. The next step would be to decide how much color and structure to extract from the skins once the fruit is crushed. Often, this is done right in the press with the skins remaining in contact with the juice from 4 hours to as much as 48. Winemakers then sample the juice to determine the color extraction and texture of the tannins before making a pressing decision. After pressing, the juice is treated like a white wine, meaning that it is settled and racked clean of solids at which point it is put into fermentation. Usually the fermentation temperature is on the cooler side to keep the bright fruity aromas from escaping out of the tank during the process. After that, the wine is stabilized, clarified and put to bottle usually quite early in the year.  




Saignée (pronounced Sin-yay) is French meaning “Bleeding”. In this method, rosé is usually a side benefit of making a red wine. Many winemakers use the process of Saignée to concentrate color, flavor, and tannins in a red wine by bleeding off juice. This reduces the skin to juice ratio in the fermentor and allows for a more intense and robust red. The resulting rosé can be quite light in color and it usually has minimal tannin extract from the skins since it is completed so early in the process, within a few hours of crushing the fruit. Because of this, blending different saignee wines is very important to create a final and holistic rosé which will stand on its own.  




Blending to make a rosé is when a white and a red wine are blended together to make a rosé wine. The resulting wine can be made in many different styles to suit many tastes and can be combined with the techniques above to layer in complexity and balance in the finished wine. It should be noted, however that blending to make rosé is not allowed in Europe outside of Rosé Champagne so this method is primarily employed in New World regions. Blending in additional red wine with skin contact or saignee rose would add additional structure, body, and color while blending in a white wine will reduce color and structure while adding aromatic fruit lift and palate freshness.  


By using one or more of these techniques, winemakers can change the style of their rosé to create their own unique statement. From pale salmon to deep rose and light and fresh to serious and structured, there is a rosé style for every occasion and particular palate. Luckily for all of us, we are just now entering the rosé season and there are plenty to choose from.
Originally written for and posted on 

The Beginning…

After much hard work and dedication plus a considerable amount of faith by Rob Sands, we finally bottled the new 240 Days Riesling and Dry Rose last week. I’m so excited about these two wines since, I believe, they join many of the other top examples of fine wine being made in the region. It is my hope that they will continue to help the amazing momentum that can be felt by all the winemakers in the area. It’s an exciting time to be in the Finger Lakes and I hope these small volumes will continue to grow, looking towards the future of the region. 

The Riesling is off-dry with bright acid and a juicy, fragent fruit nose with rounded structure from 10% neutral barrel fermentation. The long finish is accented by the fresh, zesty acid and generous palate weight. 

The Rose is a blend of Cabernet Franc (95%) and part of the barrel fermented Riesling mentioned above (5%). It is dry with rich berry fruits on the nose and a lightly structured palate brining depth and complexity to the finish. 

I hope you all get a chance to find them in the future. This was a small bottling with the Riesling topping out at 308 cases and the Rose at a mere 70 cases. 

Oh yeah…

This is happening too! Just much more slowly than the 240 Days.