Tag Archives: Masters of Wine

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.


Of What are MW Students Afraid? Or Why I’m Out of Reasons to be Afraid.

This week marks the beginning of my 7th MW seminar.  This blog will be 6 years old in March so I have managed to chronicle most of my triumphs and despairs on it.  When one come into the program as a “first year” (yes it’s very Hogwarts-esque) there are lots of feelings one has to deal with.  The excitement of being in the program and on my way to becoming an MW is what I remember most from my first year.  That first seminar was an eye opener.  It was so amazing to be in the same room with so many people as passionate about wine as I was.  I also remember getting half way through the seminar and finding one of my fellow First Years in the hallway, freaking out because he had not realized how much effort it was going to take to prep for the exam.  “I’m 40 years old,” he said. “I don’t have time to do all this.” Which brings me to fear #1.

How do I find time to do all of this?

Like Nike always says, JUST DO IT. You make time.  If it is important enough in your life, you make time for it.  I’ve been up until midnight working on assignments, I’ve read wine books on airplanes, and I’ve gotten up at 5 in the morning to work on notes. I’ve fallen asleep on my practical notebook and woken up with three ring binder imprints in my cheek.  No one said this is easy and no one is forcing anyone to do it.  Just make it a priority if it’s that important.  If it’s not that important, save your money and don’t put yourself through this.

What if I fail my first year assessment so badly that they kick me out?

Every successful MW student comes to the end of their first year with this fear. If one doesn’t have this fear then one is either are a freaking genius with nothing else going on or so egotistical that one doesn’t realize that they don’t know everything.  I’ve seen more of the latter than the former.  The vast majority fall into the camp somewhere in between that they have at least pondered this fear at one point or another.  The first year assessment is the last gas station on a long road through the desert and those that have done the prep are usually fine. On rare occasions, students will be asked to repeat the first year or move to the second year without sitting the exam at the end but most are just fine. You stop in, fill up, get supplies and then set off into the “Second Year.”

What if they figure out I don’t know everything?

At some point in the journey to the MW, you begin to feel like a little bit of a fraud. It seems so many people around you have it all figured out and you are just waiting for someone to point out that you really are dumb at something and shouldn’t be here.  I’ve heard this come out of the mouths of MW’s who have passed it all and are still wondering how it happened (I won’t mention names of course).  What you eventually come to realize is that it is impossible to know everything and each student has their strengths and weaknesses.  The key is to find students that have your weaknesses as strengths and hang out with them.  Pick their brains, don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions, and learn all you can from them.  I have always found that my fellow students were some of the best resources for knowledge and the seminar gives you a week to befriend as many as possible to share knowledge with.  They are in the same boat so they understand the detail which you need to glean.  People who are not in the program are helpful but generally not as helpful as students who are walking in the same trench you are.

What if I fail the exam?

At the end of your second year it is time to sit the exam. Nowadays, students only have the option of putting this off a year if they don’t feel ready but must sit during their second “second year”.  Back in the day, when I started this trek, you could wait almost indefinitely to sit the exam which resulted in many students that didn’t feel ready, not sitting for years.  The second year is the doldrums.  It is truly the most depressing part of the program.  The more “second years” you go through the more depressing it is.  I’ve heard many a student say “But what if I fail? I’ve used up one of my three chances to pass!”  So what?  You’ve failed.  You have more chances and are the wiser for trying it.  The only way to become an MW is to pass the exam and the only way to pass the exam is to sit the exam.  If you fail, you have lost nothing and have probably gained valuable experience and knowledge along the way (if you have properly prepped for the exam, which if you haven’t please see my final sentence under fear #1).  Trust me, as someone who has failed the exam 5 times in some way, shape, or form at this point, failing the exam is not as bad as everyone assumes it is.  Take time to grieve, decide if you want to continue, then if so, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, make a plan, and go again.

What if I fail so often, they kick me out?

There are two points that this fear comes into play. The first is on your third attempt if you haven’t passed either the practical or the theory by then.  The second is on your fifth attempt if you have passed either by your third attempt. If a student is worried about this prior to either of these moments please re-read the paragraph above.  Again, so what?  It’s an opportunity to remember what life was like before the MW.  It’s time to reevaluate and decide if this is something that is truly worth it.  After my 5th fail, I had decided that I needed to hang it up.  I was ready to do that.  I found other things in my life that were just as important to start working on.  After about a month, I was already missing the camaraderie of the program and (strangely enough) I was missing having something to occupy every spare minute of every day.  There was a hole in my life that could only be filled by being involved with this organization, which brings me to the following fear…

What if people think I’m crazy? Heck, I think I’m crazy!

Honestly this doesn’t matter. All that matters is that my family is supportive and I have the passion and the drive to keep going regardless of the odds and regardless of the obstacles in my path.  At some point, probably soon, I’m going to run out of money to keep going at which case I’ll probably take some additional time off and then get back at it however. Having decided that at some point in my life I will be an MW, nothing is going to stop me because I’m not afraid anymore. Well, maybe I’m afraid of one thing.

What if I take the most times to pass the exam that ANYONE has ever taken?

Honestly, I probably won’t care because I’ll still have the initials and the camaraderie of the group and I’ll have looked at the exam forwards, backwards, and sideways to the point that I breathe it and what future MW student could ask for a better mentor than that?

So here we go, attempt number 6! Bring it!




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