Stage 1


Stage 1 (formerly known as the First Year) is the foundation year, and for most students it is their first serious interaction with the Institute.  It's also an opportunity to meet Masters of Wine in a professional and a social setting, as well as fellow students, and to form friendships that may last for decades.

Stage 1 of the Study Programme involves a five-day residential Seminar, and at least two non-residential Course Days.  Students are expected to produce six pieces of work for assessment during the year.  The culmination of Stage 1 is the Stage 1 Assessment (S1A), an exam that takes place in early June.  Progression to Stage 2 of the Study Programme (formerly known as the Second Year) is dependent on the results achieved in the S1A.

For more information, see below, or follow the quick links to the left.


The Institute offers Stage 1 of the programme in three locations around the world.


On the European programme the residential Seminar is held in Rust, Austria, and the course days are held in London, UK. The European programme includes five days of residential Seminar, one day of touring Austrian vineyards, and four course days. Students on the European programme can take the Stage 1 Assessment in person in London. This is normally organised in early June.

North America
On the North American programme students receive five days of residential Seminar in San Francisco as well as four course days, which students can attend either in Napa or New York City. Typically, there are two Fall and two Spring course days. Students on the North American programme can take the Stage 1 Assessment in person in Napa. This is normally organised in early June.
On the Australasian programme students get five days of residential Seminar, which, in 2016 is being held in Adelaide; and four course days, over two sets of consecutive days. The course days are normally offered in Sydney and Hong Kong. Students on the Australiasian programme can take the Stage 1 Assessment  in person in Sydney, London or San Francisco. This is normally organised in early June.

The Seminar

The residential Seminar is the core building element of the annual Study Programme and attendance is a pre-requisite for progression to Stage 2 of the programme. The Seminar is five days in length. It includes a variety of classes covering both Theory and Practical sessions. Whilst the lectures, workshops, tasting and theory tutorials aim to cover as wide a range of topics as possible, students need to understand that they do not cover all the topics or materials needed for the Stage 1Assessment.
The primary aim of the Stage 1 Seminar is to introduce students to the MW syllabus in order to ensure that they understand the breadth and depth required. In particular, MW tutors aim to highlight:
the level of knowledge required
the extent of analysis and synthesis necessary
the skills required for successfully conveying the candidate’s knowledge, understanding and experience, and
study strategies, techniques and methods that have proved useful to others.
A Stage 1 Seminar typically includes a variety of tasting sessions. Some aim to introduce new students to the MW style of tasting and broadcast the message about the requirements of the examiners. It is important to note, however, that there is no single best way of approaching the practical papers. Students need to develop their own approach, method and ways of communicating convincingly and authoritatively with regard to the wines presented. Other tasting sessions may focus on a variety, region, production method, or style. The Seminar will normally include at least one mock examination as well, so that students can get first-hand experience of mastering a 12-wine tasting paper, whilst they also get detailed feedback.
In terms of the theory parts of the syllabus, the Stage 1 Seminar normally aims at providing a solid foundation in skills development. Therefore, great emphasis is given to writing skills, such as question analysis, essay planning, and writing effective introductions and conclusions. Other theory sessions tend to showcase a variety of topics so that students can gain an understanding of the depth required, the multidisciplinary nature of the theory papers and the global aspect of the MW Examination.
The Stage 1 Seminars normally aim to include hands-on and practical sessions, such as winery or vineyard visits, blending sessions, and marketing workshops. These sessions may vary from year to year and their purpose is to show the application of MW skills through action. It is also common for first-year seminars to include plenary type lectures from renowned industry leaders.
It is essential that students arrive at the Seminar, having appropriately prepared. In particular, they should:
have read the syllabus and the student guide
have checked the past examination papers and Examiners’ Reports
have watched a couple of Examination Feedback Day video recordings
have drafted a study plan
have been in contact with their mentor
have submitted the first assignments
have drafted a few essay plans OR have looked into what it takes to plan and write an essay.

Course days

Regardless of which programme we refer to, course days aim to provide continuity throughout the academic year. They help students to maintain momentum, gain inspiration and develop themselves. Course days are also perfect platforms for networking with your fellow students in order to set up tasting and study groups or to learn more about a field in which your peers are more specialised.
Stage 1 course days will normally include a tasting in the morning and theory work in the afternoon in order to provide a balanced programme. In North America and Europe, there are courses day prior to the seminar in the early New Year, which enables new students to arrive at the seminar with some preparation beforehand. The post-seminar course days serve the purpose of further development before the assessment. Students are strongly advised not to rely only on the course days during the year, but to follow their own study plan and treat the course days as complements.


Stage 1 students have 6 assignments to complete, of which 3 are essays and another 3 are dry tasting assignments. The essays are normally referred to as AMS, which stands for Assignment Marking Scheme, whilst the tastings are often called PAMS: Practical Assignment Marking Scheme.
These assignments are centrally set and published by the Executive Office. The assignments need to be submitted by a certain deadline and they are normally returned to you within three weeks. These dates, as well as the procedures, are explained in detail in the Assignment Marking Scheme manual published on the website of the Institute.
There is detailed feedback provided for each student. Participation in the assignment marking scheme is voluntary though it must be noted that this service is included in the tuition fee and it is in students’ best interest to make use of it.


The Institute provides each student with an MW mentor for the academic year. The mentor role is principally that of a non-judgemental adviser who can be a source of challenge, support, insight and guidance. Masters of Wine undertake to mentor students voluntarily and free of charge. They share their experience and insight in order to assist students passing the exam. Mentors are not expected to mark essays or tasting papers, but some may offer to do so. This will vary from mentor to mentor.
Whilst the Institute hopes to allocate mentors within close geographical proximity to students, it is not always possible.
As with every relationship, it is good to establish mutual expectations in order to manage them well. This would include the frequency and method of contact, what the mentor will undertake to do or in what format the student is expected to provide deliverables. Some mentors are very pro-active, but it is essentially the responsibility of the student to drive the relationship.
In rare cases, there may be an incompatibility between student and their MW mentor. Mentees are encouraged to take action early on, by contacting the Executive Office and asking to be allocated a new MW mentor.  Requests for a change of mentor will never impact the mentee in any way.

Study Groups

The MW is a self-directed study programme where individual determination, self-motivation and perseverance are essential. However, it is also indispensable for students to form study and tasting groups in order to share their knowledge and expertise. There is a great diversity of professional backgrounds, areas of expertise and experience as well as geographic spread from different markets around the world amongst the student body.
You can create study groups for both the theory and practical parts of the examination. It is entirely possible to practise both essay planning/writing and tasting together. We advise that first-years pay equal attention to both parts of the syllabus.
You can also create virtual study groups with the help of internet technology, such as e-mail, Skype, etc. It is possible to swap essay plans, introductions, conclusions or full essays in order to critically read and comment on each other’s work.
If you participate in a study group, please remember that there is no one single style or successful method; therefore you should not copy or imitate anyone else. It is much more useful to develop your own style and approach, because it will give you confidence and help you keep calm in an exam situation.

The Stage 1 Assessment (S1A)

At the end of the first year of studies students need to write an assessment if they wish to proceed to Stage 2. The assessment is often referred to as the S1A; and it involves one 12-wine tasting paper and 2 essays. All the Theory questions are sourced from past exam papers and the Practical part will include a variety of wines, just as Paper 3 of the MW exam would do. All students have to sit the S1A in either London, Napa or Sydney in June.
The aim of the assessment is to see how much students have understood the requirements and how well they are able to deliver them in an exam situation. In other words, the S1A does not try to establish whether you can pass the MW examination, but it allows the Institute to see whether you are ready for intensive Stage 2 studies. Students are expected to have an average of 55% across all papers in the S1A, although a holistic view is also taken into account, which can include looking at assignments submitted throughout the year. Ultimately, markers of the S1A papers look for depth and breadth of knowledge, critical analysis in selecting the relevant points, understanding, a multidisciplinary and global approach, and an ability to communicate clearly and convincingly. In the tasting, students need to demonstrate that they have made sufficient progress to make objective, reasoned assessment of wines, considering key aspects such as origin, grape variety, winemaking, quality, maturity and commercial potential. Students need to show that they base their arguments always on the evidence in the glass.
The tasting paper can be hand-written or typed and must be written in English. The Theory part can be typed, and it may be written in a language other than English. If you choose not to write in English, the Institute will arrange for translations.

Progression to Stage 2

This is a  list of the recommendations students are given when their S1A results are published. Please note that each student receives individual feedback on their performance.

1. Progress to Stage 2

2. Re-take Stage 1 in its entirety, including attending a Seminar (although attending a European Seminar is not likely to be possible due to space limitations)

3. Take a few years (minimum two) out before applying to join Stage 1