A Masterful Slip into Wine

I was delighted to oblige Lawrence Francis of Interpreting Wines for an interview, which has been published in a two-part podcast earlier this autumn. With his permission, I can share the recording here (see at the end of this post). In the first part we discuss the Institute of Masters of Wine at length, where I worked as head of education and examination for nearly ten years.

The wine industry is a peculiar one to work in. If you are, for example, a winemaker, wine writer or journalist, the oft-asked question is whether you have had some kind of a calling that has led you to do the job that earns you a living. It is also not rare to hear colleagues talk about how they have crossed over from the dark side to work in wine, which really is meant to be the politically correct way of saying they had left a corporate job, often in finance or law.

I joined the British wine trade by coincidence rather than design when I was hired as the Education Manager of the Institute of Masters of Wine. Hardly did I comprehend the significance of the Master of Wine title fully even though I knew, through my pre-job-interview research, it was an international professional membership organisation of serious standing. Before long I realised two things: I was tasked with the daily management of the world’s most serious wine study programme and my wine knowledge was so modest that it was seriously gravitating to zero.

The medieval tradition of training apprentices into masters and organising members of a trade into guilds was widespread across Europe, but it may well be in the UK only that it has survived. The City of London boasts numerous livery companies and it is the so-called Great Twelve who represent the most significant trades. The Vintners’ Company, founded in 1363, is one of them and it was their effort to promote the standards of the vintners’ trade that they organised the first Master of Wine examination. The Institute was formed two years later in 1955.

I was privileged to work, on management side, for the Masters of Wine in a critical period when the study programme went through massive geographic extension as well as I led a number of initiatives to transform how learning was delivered to an increasingly international group of students. The spirit of fellowship and sense of camaraderie impressed me the most during my time at the Institute. Despite plenty of hard work and challenges of an expanding non-profit organisation, there was always a great sense of community, which, I think, is still unique to the Institute, as a membership organisation.

It is definitely the influence of the nine formative years I worked at the Masters of Wine that I have acquired an unquenchable thirst for learning more about wine. I let you listen to the interview to learn more about my journey into wine and what it was like to work for the most elite group of wine professionals in the world.