MW Study Programme: Bordeaux Seminar

Debra Meiburg MW

There is something truly special about being on site with MW students for a full week. With such tremendous talent in the room, we MWs were awed by the students’ deep knowledge levels and their dedication to attain these glorious initials.

Not only does the residential seminar offer a fighting chance to get to know the students beyond exam advice, but it was a true personal renewal for me, a re-invigoration of my own commitment to excellence in learning.

The week offered a great deal of knowledge, experience and insight to the group. All the MWs in attendance were able to guide the students in new and inventive ways. Offsite visits showed the diversity of terroir and philosophy of two of the world’s top class chateau, Pontet-Canet and Cheval Blanc.

We were privileged to welcome some special guest speakers during the week. Alberto Antonini, former head winemaker at Antinori and rated as one of the five top wine consultants in the world by both Decanter and The Drinks Business, spent more than 24 hours with the students. His visit culminated in a presentation Soil and Fermentation Vessels, with special focus on soil management and vineyard care for regions as wide-ranging as Uruguay, Argentina, Armenia, Georgia and, of course, Italy. Lynne Coyle MW sums it up, “Alberto generously shared his philosophy developed during his vast international experience managing vineyards, he eloquently detailed the requirements to achieve quality in the vineyard and highlighted it is a combination of nature, science and art”.

Fiona Morrison MW’s off-the-record frank and unbridled Fireside Chat shared the challenges of shepherding one of the world’s most well-known luxury properties with particular focus on counterfeits. Fiona said, “The world criticises China for rampant counterfeits, but I assure you the problem is not just China. We’re combatting nefarious operators in Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium and the UK, as well as the USA (to name a few countries). We spend more than €5 per bottle in our effort to safeguard Le Pin. It is all about giving our customers post-sale reassurance.”

Another of the many highlights was the Master Class Tasting: Spanish Wines, by Yiannis Karakasis MW and Norrel Roberston MW. Students and MWs alike were afforded an intimate tasting that exemplified Spain’s mastery of contemporary winemaking and gave us a tantalising glimpse at what we can expect during the 2018 Symposium in Logroño.

We also were lucky to include a fascinating session on oak trials led by Dourthe’s own Frédéric Bonnafous and Nicolas Mahler-Besse, CEO of Seguin Moreau. Barry Dick MW brought the students firsthand examples, photos and lively anecdotes on QA/QC. Mary Gorman McAdams MW and Frederique De La Mothe (Director of Cru Bourgeois) brought students up to date on the latest developments with the Cru Bourgeois classification. As part of this, the students were orchestrated into a lively debate: the left side of the room assigned the argument for changeable classifications and the proposed return to tiers within the Cru Bourgeois system (superior, exceptional), with the right side of the room to counter.

More highlights included Matthew Stubbs MW leading a lively discussion on the future of fortified wine; an update by highly admired journalist, Jane Anson, on the latest trends in Bordeaux, like biodynamic wines, new wave whites and use of stems; and a Wine Faults seminar by Barry Dick MW and Natasha Hughes MW. How to Pass Practical and Theory Skills presentations by Natasha Hughes MW and Peter Marks MW were instrumental to the students’ exam preparation, as was the input and advice on Research Papers given by the group of MWs, in particular, Sheri Sauter-Morano MW.

Of course, part of learning in the wine industry is also enjoyment! We relished the Gala Dinner at Chateau Pey La Tour and the lively BYOB night (pity us poor souls who had to get up at 3:30AM for the earliest flight!), along with surprising warm weather throughout, and special touches, like the beautifully catered light lunch on the sunny terraces of Chateau Dauphine.

I have spent much time over the past 15 years at Pey La Tour, firstly as a student, then as a tutor, and finally these past years as coordinator. And as I closed the door of the chateau Saturday morning, it hit me how much I will miss the rugged limestone-walled classrooms, the infamous fussball tournaments in the bunker, the impromptu MW gatherings in the chateau’s 'family room', and the misty vineyards blanketed with astonishing coral skies during the chilly morning walks to the breakfast room. Not to mention the constancy and support of the Dourthe group, Mathieu Chadronnier and Patrick Jestin, most especially personified by Marie-Hélène Inquimbert. Most importantly though, I’ll miss the camaraderie and friendship of a roomful of people all working toward the same goal.

The Pey la Tour experience has contributed greatly to the success of innumerable Masters of Wine these past 17 years and — at a very personal level — helped shape the professional that I am today.

Debra Meiburg MW

22 February 2017