If you had glasses of wine lined up in front of you – these could be any wine from all over the world – could you pick them?; The region, the grape, the vintage, the winemaking techniques… all from the sight, the smell and a sip?
Apparently there’s about 353 people in the world who can: the Masters of Wine (MW).
I mean look, I could pick a gutsy Barossa Shiraz or a crunchy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc as easily as you’d pick vegemite in a line-up of toast. But for the MW, you need to be capable of so much more, and with 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world… well that’s a lot of tasting to memorize every one!
The Masters of Wine (MW) is a qualification generally regarded in the wine industry as one of the highest standards of professional knowledge. The process I described above is only the practical element of one of the 3 stages required to pass to be awarded the title. Stage 2 also has a week’s worth of essays and exams – writing on everything wine, from growing grapes, to winemaking, marketing, and contemporary issues.
So in 63 years of existence, it’s easy to see why only 353 people have managed to pass.
I like to use analogies when I talk about wine; this world can seem so foreign to others and I find it helps to draw comparisons, so bear with me while I delve into this one. I’ve said before that winemakers are like the rockstars of the wine world. Us winos go as nuts over perfect-vintage-brilliantly-made-wine as you did when Bon Jovi dropped Living on a Prayer. (Maybe, kind of.)
MWs tend to go a bit more behind-the-scenes with their skills, taking lots of different avenues to progress the industry. They’re the producers, the composers, the rolling stone journalists, the guy on the radio who takes all the music and chooses what the listeners will like. Mind you, some are winemakers too. What does that make them? The Taylor Swift of wine? (Just in case we’re unclear, that’s compliment. I’m a proud fan. #TeamTaylor)
There are only a few MWs in Canada, and none so far in Quebec – but there is one hopeful.
Jacky Blisson is in the midst of studying for what many call the world’s toughest test and could be the first person in the province to have the esteemed MW after her name.
Of course, I wanted to meet her. Jacky was kind enough to sit down with me and give me an insight into one of the most challenging things a wine-o can do, and how she got into it in the first place.
As with many in the industry, Jacky was raised by a wine-loving family. But unlike many, she wasn’t going to take that path. “I studied communications” she says, “but within 6 months of having a ‘real job’ I knew I hated it.” So, she simply quit and moved to France to do a wine course – pretty ballsy if you ask me. Luckily she’d found her calling and enjoyed many years in the industry before moving back to Quebec with her husband to tackle the MW.
She’s half way through the Master of Wine and next hurdle will be passing the practical of the 2nd stage, the part only 17% of hopefuls manage to pass each time.
Talking to this woman, it’s clear she has a passion for wine, but her studies also show a really thoughtful, logical approach – which I love. While she can say what she likes to drink, she doesn’t have a strong preference toward different styles or techniques in wine – but can appreciate differences and assess categories accordingly.
Organic wines are all the rage at the moment – where the vineyard uses a different set of practices to maintain the vines in order to grow the grapes organically. I’ve met a lot of people who literally wouldn’t touch anything without an organic stamp! It’s like those Triple J people (it’s an Australian thing) who are super judgey about anything remotely pop (disclaimer, I like Triple J music; I also like listening to Taylor Swift without judgement)… (Obviously a sore point, let’s move on).
I was so interested at what Jacky thought considering her level of study and LOVED her response. “I’m a huge supporter of moving towards sustainable winemaking” she said, “but some winemakers are actually moving away from organic because the practices to get the certification aren’t actually helping the wine or the environment. For me, being sustainable means making wine in the most intelligent way – if a carefully timed and applied spray means avoiding dumping toxic levels of copper into soils, do it.”
Natural wine is also a buzz word at the moment – where the grape juice is made into wine without adding or removing anything in the process. It has lots of lovers and lots of critics. It’s an interesting product, I’ve seen many which look pretty murky and many riding on the fence of (or simply being) faulty. Personally, I really appreciate the art of winemaking, and love drinking something that while being an expression of its terroir (the place it comes from) also strikes a gorgeous balance of characters – because the winemaker has been able to steer it in this direction.
Jacky can appreciate the style, but doesn’t think all wine needs to be totally natural. “It’s like adding salt in cooking” she says, “yes it’s not totally natural, but a little can help strike the perfect balance and make for a delicious meal.” But she does say the trend is beneficial for the industry, “It’s making producers consider their techniques and make some movement to meet in the middle – which is a great thing.”
Et voila! What an awesome approach!
Jacky is blogging her way through her journey and she’s got some really great thoughts on the industry so I recommend reading.
Thanks for your time Jacky, and best of luck – we’d all love to see a MW in Quebec!
Disclaimer… I’m a Wine Ambassador with Pernod Ricard Winemakers. But this blog’s been around long before that, I just like writing about wine, my own adventures and people who inspire me – so all opinions are my own. (It might be embarrassing for the company if people thought it’s official stance was #TeamTaylor – as far as I know we’re neutral on the matter, but contact comms if you would an official statement to know for sure.)