History of the Institute

For sixty years the Institute of Masters of Wine has been promoting professional excellence and knowledge of the art, science and business of wine. It began with an exam held for the first time in 1953 for the trade, known as the Master of Wine examination. Two years later the Institute of Masters of Wine was formed by the people who had passed the inaugural exam. The Institute’s membership now spans 29 countries while its study, examination and events programmes are conducted annually on a worldwide basis.

The Founding of the Institute

The Institute owes its origin to the Vintners' Company, one of the Twelve Great City of London Livery Companies which received its first Charter in 1363, and to the Wine and Spirit Association.

Soon after the Second World War these two organisations recognised that they needed to improve the standard of education in the British wine trade and to formally certify its most talented members. They organised an examination process for the trade known as the Master of Wine examination, which was held for the first time in 1953. In 1955, the Institute of Masters of Wine was formed by the people who had passed the inaugural exam.

Today the Institute is independent of both, although the Vintners' Company remains an important supporter. The Institute continues to hold many of its events throughout the year in Vintners' Hall in the City of London, including the Annual General Meeting, the Awards Ceremony and a number of tastings.

The First Examination

In 1953 in London, 21 candidates sat the first examination for the qualification Master of Wine. It consisted of five theory papers and three practical papers. As a reflection of the times, perhaps, one practical paper was entirely devoted to the analysis of faulty wines. Dick Bowes MW (who passed in 1966) recalled that as most people in the trade at the time started in the cellars, part of the exam was to identify tools of the trade: "I can remember coopers’ adzes, bung-tinners and spile hole borers."

Of the 21 original candidates only six passed, illustrating the rigorous demands of the qualification from the very beginning. Although the examination was open to women from the outset, it was only in 1970 that there was a female Master of Wine, Sarah Morphew Stephen MW.

Key Dates

Six candidates out of 21 pass the examination and become Masters of Wine.

The Institute of Masters of Wine is formed in London.

The first female Master of Wine, Sarah Morphew Stephen, passes the examination and is admitted to the membership of the Institute.

The Institute opens the examination to people working outside the wine trade (such as winemakers and journalists). Jancis Robinson OBE becomes the first non-trade Master of Wine.

The first Master of Wine from outside the UK, Michael Hill Smith AM from Australia, passes the exam.

The first Masters of Wine from the USA, Joel Butler and Tim Hanni, pass the exam.

The education programme and the exam are delivered on three continents: Europe, Australasia, and North America.

The Institute of Masters of Wine Endowment Fund is established to secure the Institute's financial stability and promote its strategic goals. Funds are raised through cash donations from members and by an auction of wine and winery visits provided by Masters of Wine and supporters of the Institute from around the world.

The first Masters of Wine from Asia, Jeannie Cho Lee and Debra Meiburg from Hong Kong and Lisa Perrotti-Brown from Singapore, pass the examination and become members of the Institute.

More than 100 MWs are based outside the UK. Ned Goodwin MW becomes the first MW based in Japan.

The Institute announces a record number of 24 new MWs from 10 countries, bringing the total number of Masters of Wine to 340, based in 24 countries across all continents.

 Vintners Company

The Vintners' Company Coat of Arms.


Vintners' Hall in London 

Five Kings House, home of the Institute's original offices in the City of London.


Master of Wine Certificate 

The Master of Wine Certificate.


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Annual Review 2015-2016 (9 MB)