Category Archives: study

Revisiting my Research Paper

When I handed in my MW research paper last June I was more than happy to forget about it for a while. After months of study and endless hours of analysing data and drawing graphs with Excel, it was fantastic to turn that part of my brain off to relax and enjoy the summer. Even once autumn came around and I got the longed-for phone call saying that I had passed, still my research paper spent time metaphorically gathering dust in the depths of my computer memory. But as a bit more time passed I realised that although my paper had achieved its primary goal of making me an MW, it hadn’t actually done any wider good for the industry.

Research papers aren’t automatically published anywhere – and so all the effort I had put in wasn’t actually benefiting anyone. My paper looked at how independent wine merchants use their websites, analysing their e-commerce and/or marketing capabilities – and gave some insights and suggestions for the merchants to look at when updating their websites. I really wanted to pass these learnings on so they could be of some use – and so I could feel that all those months of research had a tangible benefit.

And so the time had come for me to go back to my paper and condense it down into a readable form for an article to be published in The Wine Merchant magazine. After some months of distance from the research I really enjoyed going back to my paper and picking out the key insights. At the time it was all-consuming and so hard to really appreciate, but now I can see just what I got out of it – not only in some interesting and (hopefully) useful research, but also in the new skills I learnt along the way. Sometimes people can assume the third stage of the MW course is the easy bit – well, you’ve got the exams out of the way haven’t you? – but really it is anything but. It requires a very different way of thinking and studying, not to mention being much more lonely as you steadily work your way further and further into your particular subject.

But I would argue that the research paper also gives a huge amount of satisfaction. At the end you have learnt something about wine that perhaps no one knew before – or at least hadn’t done the research to prove that it is so. Being able to pass this new knowledge on to other people in the industry and hopefully help someone somewhere – that is pretty fantastic. And so I was very pleased when my article was published this month and I was finally able to share my findings with the merchants that I researched. I hope that it is of use to them.

If you would like to read the article, you can find it here – just scroll to pages 26-27.


Groundhog day: getting ready to face the MW exams. Again

Possibly the hardest thing about preparing to face my nemesis, the practical exam, is the repetitive emotional roller-coaster of the whole process. It is a ground hog day of early morning study, weekend study, psyche myself up, game face on, 12 wines blind followed by the crushing realisation that, once again, I have got the wines wrong.
As the MW reads out the variety and origin of the wines to a background of fellow candidates hissing ‘yessss’ accompanied by mini fist pumps, the dark clouds gather over my head and a cold feeling of sickness pervades the pit of my stomach. How did I not get that one right?? Again?
Back to my books, back to the endless dry notes, back to the hapless boyfriend/parent/friend pouring me yet another wine blind after a long day at work. Back to climbing out of that dark pit of despondency, analysing my errors, vowing to learn from them and starting that exhausting mental journey back into the sunshine of positive thought.
Last night an MW held a practice tasting for a few of us at his home after work. Deep breath. Here we go again. But last night things were different. Last night I was the one hissing ‘yessss’, certainly not for all of them, but enough for that dark cloud to recede and be replaced by the glimmer of something that at first I struggled to recognise… hope.
I have awoken today to the fledgling feeling of a genuine ‘can do’ attitude. I am not naïve enough to think that this war is won and I know that I am going to be revisited by my dark cloud again many times before I sit the exams in June, but for now I intend to build on this feeling.
And so here we are, days away from the 4 day residential course and the mock exam. And you know what. I am feeling positive.


MW reflections

Last month marked the pinnacle of my wine education when I was officially inducted as a Master of Wine at the annual awards ceremony. Held at Vintners House it was a very special evening attended by many of the people who I had met along the course of my MW studies, both students and tutors, as well as – most specially for me – my husband, parents and two fellow wine monkeys.

Of course graduation ceremonies are always happy times, but I can think of none happier – or noisier – than this one. As each of us 24 new MWs individually went up on stage to accept our official certificates there was a new wave of applause, hollering and general appreciation from the audience. Not to mention more than a few tears. It really was an incredible evening that will live a long, long time in the memory.

Celebrating monkeys

Celebrating monkeys

A month or so on has given me some time to reflect on what it all means – and where I have come from. One really lovely aspect of becoming an MW that I didn’t anticipate was the many, many letters, notes and emails of congratulations I received – both from friends and colleagues but also many from people I haven’t yet met. One of those notes was from my very first wine tutor from back when I had just finished university and hadn’t yet started in the wine trade. I took an evening class in the WSET intermediate level (now level 2) along with my Dad and one of his colleagues, both keen wine lovers, and I still remember to this day how exciting it was to learn a little more each week about the world of wine. Not to mention getting more than a bit confused with the German classification system! That course is what really made me think about the wine trade as a future career – and 6 months after I finished I moved to London to start on Oddbin’s Trainee Manager programme.

10 years has passed since then and I have moved through various jobs along the way – but one constant has been my wine education. At Oddbins I completed my WSET Advanced and then started on the Diploma. After a break when we moved out to New Zealand for a year and a half I restarted the Diploma and ended up graduating as the highest scholar in my year, being awarded the Vintners Cup. That propelled me onto the MW which has taken up the last 4 years of my life with all of its highs and lows along the way. So it is perhaps no surprise that the one question I keep getting asked now is, what next?

With my certificate in 'The Art of Wine'

With my certificate in ‘The Art of Wine’

It is a very good question – and for someone who has essentially been studying in one way or other since school it is strange to think that there is no further to go in terms of wine education. The MW is it – now my challenge is to keep my levels of knowledge up to scratch, to keep up with as much of the new research, topics and debates as possible so that I can help my mentees with their own studies.

But I have also got another project brewing –one that will take rather longer than 4 or even 10 years and will affect my day to day life even more than studying for the MW. My very own mini-monkey is due with us in just over 2 months’ time and I can’t wait. Give me 6 months to a year and then we can think about what comes next for me with wine. For now, my new challenge is to be a mummy and it’s sure to be the steepest learning curve yet.


A Confession

When I started the MW course I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me. I knew it would take dedication, time management, determination and hard work and none of these prospects scared me; I have always applied myself to any challenge.  What I didn’t know was that as the course progressed it would reach insidiously into my very core, probing my deepest insecurities and challenging me in ways I have never before been challenged.

It has made me face failure for the first time, not once, but twice and like Damocles sword, the threat of failure again looms large on the horizon. For a perfectionist and a control freak failure doesn’t just mean that you have failed one aspect of a notoriously tough exam, it calls into question your self-worth.  It sounds melodramatic but to fail at the one thing you are ‘supposed to be good at’ is a very difficult mental hurdle to overcome.

My first failure was at my first attempt at the theory and practical exams. I had foregone ‘pleasure’ reading for 9 months and had been getting up at 5am to study every weekday.  I passed theory, but I failed 2 of the 3 practical exams.  I gained no joy in the theory pass, all I could see was the failure.  I persevered, re-enrolled and redoubled my efforts, but deep down I had stopped believing in myself.  When the results came through I had passed 2 of the 3 practical papers, an overall failure.  By this point my marriage had disintegrated into an acrimonious divorce and my father was battling cancer.  I had failed at my studies, I had failed at my marriage and I was worried that in my selfish MW cocoon I was failing as a daughter and a sister as well.

I took a year out and tried running away; I quit my job and moved to the sticks. That didn’t work.  Tormenting ghosts have a habit of following you.  I finally stopped running, both mentally and physically.  I finally began to see that the MW is not about passing or failing, it is about learning and growing.  I had got sucked into an MW bubble where nothing but passing matters and the fear and shame of failure came to dominate everything.  I had forgotten the reason I started this marathon in the first place which was to become a better, more knowledgeable wine professional.

With the help of incredible friends who have trodden the same path as me, albeit at a somewhat quicker pace, and an incredibly talented but more importantly, unbelievably patient mentor I am back in the game and studying to resit in 2016, but for the right reasons. I can now see there is no such thing as failure, I might never be able to put MW after my name, but I will become better at what I love in the process of trying.

This is my confession. My name is Alex.  I have failed. I might fail again.  But failure is subjective and in the end I will succeed.confession