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Odney seminar

At noon on the 9 February 68 students from 17 countries arrived at the Odney Club, Cookham for the last of the stage 2 European seminars. After welcome speeches and introductions, the seminar commenced with the Theory Chair Neil Tully MW giving tips on ‘How to pass the theory’ exam. The rest of the afternoon revolved around the ‘Back in the saddle’ tasting of six wines. For the first time the 4 session rooms combined the full programme and practical only (PO) students together.

Morning sessions for the next four days were 12 wine tastings led by MWs. On Saturday afternoon we were joined by Matthew Stubbs MW, who lead a session on ‘How to pass the practical’. This was followed by an enthusiastic and lively presentation from Tim Jackson MW (who passed in 2017), on how he approached the research paper (RP). After a short break all students joined together for a fascinating and detailed Sparkling tasting by Ying Tan MW demonstrating how different house styles are achieved and the impact of different disgorgement dates. While the students were enjoying this splendid tasting, a group of ever-reliable MWs were outside grappling with Ying’s decanting process, and his specific pouring timelines and guidelines! Thank you to those assisting! In total 14 wines were served blind almost all of which had been generously sponsored.

The day ended with three consecutive activities, a blind tasting, feedback on two wines from the morning and a fascinating discussion led by Sarah Knowles MW on ‘Current and future trends’ with analysis and data from The Wine Society.

The mock exam took place on Sunday morning. The afternoon started with Elizabeth Gabay MW holding a focused tasting on Rosé. Later Tim Jackson MW led a paper 4 lecture and Yiannis Karakassis MW bought to life the ‘dry’ topic of soil with a tasting of Greek wines from different soil types. The resident MWs were disappointed to miss these tastings: they were all busy marking papers for the PO group in order to meet the objective of giving 30 minutes of one-on-one feedback to each PO student within 7 hours of completing their exam! An informal, optional, walk-around blind tasting session ended the day, giving candidates the choice of sleeping, working or exercising if they preferred.

Monday afternoon had several simultaneous activities: the full programme students attended a theory paper 2 session run by Richard Hemming MW, a walk-around tasting of VDP Riesling and a mock feedback session. The PO group was treated to a vertical tasting of Angelus led by Matthew Hemming MW. For the final session of the day we were joined by Caroline Gilby MW and Simon Thorpe MW for a live video feedback session led by Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW on papers 3 and 4. On Monday evening, all the MWs, weary from marking, headed to the local Cookham curry house.

On Tuesday afternoon Anne Krebiehl MW led an informative tasting on VDP Riesling whilst Richard Hemming MW, Ying Tan MW and Cathy Van Zyl MW ran a paper 5 session. Tuesday evening was the gala dinner where we were joined by Chairman Jane Masters MW and Penny Richards: a fun, relaxing evening was had by all.

On Wednesday morning we went to Bothy Vineyard in Oxfordshire for our pruning session. It was bitterly cold, although thankfully not raining this year. Thanks go to Sian Liwicki for making this possible and to Ed Mitcham for pruning guidance and interesting facts for theory-thirsty candidates. The seminar ended with a pub lunch at the Dog House with a tasting of the red and white wines of Bothy vineyard.

In total 19 MWs participated: thanks also go to Sam Caporn MW, Philip Harden MW and Demetri Walters MW. The Odney seminar would not have been possible without the help of Matthew Hemming MW (PO coordinator) and of course the IMW executive team: Olly, Robyn and Angus – a big thank you to you all, and to all the students that made the seminar so enjoyable.

I walked out of the gates at Odney with some sadness: this was my last year running the seminar, but I will certainly still be involved with student education.

Annette Scarfe MW

Bordeaux seminar

Thirty-seven students and a team of 12 Masters of Wine recently gathered in Bordeaux at Chateau Pey la Tour in Salleboeuf for the Stage 2 European study programme seminar. It was an intense week of tastings and theory sessions designed to challenge and inspire the students.

We kicked off the week with a calibration exercise led by Mark Pygott MW with assistance from Matt Deller MW and Richard Kershaw MW. The focus was to help get the students thinking about structural components and how to use evidence from the glass to support their conclusions. The day also included an illuminating session on passing the practical with Phil Tuck MW and an ‘Essay 201’ session designed and delivered by Barbara Boyle MW. Students also participated in small group feedback sessions to help prepare them for Tuesday’s mock exam. We concluded the day with an icebreaker activity and we learned some unique facts about each other – including that out of the 40-odd people in the room, there was only one person for whom this was the first time setting foot in Bordeaux!

Tuesday brought not only the mock exam, but a brief snow shower, which added greatly to the beauty of Chateau Pey la Tour’s vineyards! There was no rest for the weary after the mock, but rather students jumped right into a session on how to taste for quality with Matt Deller MW and Richard Kershaw MW. This was followed by an exciting tasting that took us to new frontiers of terroir with Sarah Abbott MW and Andreas Kubach MW. The tasting included grapes such as Koshu from Japan and Obeidi from Lebanon and a discussion of emerging regions around the world. We were also fortunate to spend our evening in a lively discussion with representatives from Crédit Agricole Aquitaine about the financial aspects of buying or owning a vineyard in which we learned that it really does take a large fortune to make a small one when it comes to wine.

After a morning presentation on the research paper (RP) featuring the recent research of Barbara Boyle MW, Jeremy Cukierman MW and Andreas Kubach MW, the group set off to explore Bordeaux. We journeyed first to Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte where we enjoyed a tour and tasting as well as a very special lunch, the highlight of which was commentary (on the wines and their experiences) by owners Daniel and Florence Cathiard. Our second visit of the day was to Chateau Pontet Canet, where we toured through the winery with Jean-Michel Comme. Given the amount of furious scribblings in notebooks and the number of questions that were asked, it was a day rich in information and examples for the students.

Thursday was back to the classroom for practical and theory work and detailed individual feedback sessions for students on their performance on the mock exam. The day also included a fantastic tasting focused on Bordeaux vintages led by Jeremy Cukierman MW and Mary Gorman-McAdams MW that helped the students to develop their understanding of vintage variations and also how to use the evidence from the glass along with their theory knowledge to support their arguments on the practical. The day’s work concluded with an exceptionally informative session on the buying and selling of wine from the different perspectives of Emma Dawson MW and Matt Deller MW. After a busy day, students and MWs alike were able to enjoy the Gala Dinner, generously hosted by the Dourthe Group.

Although it was the last day, Friday still found us with a full and demanding schedule, the highlight of which was a lengthy session with Professor Kees Van Leeuwen and Alexander Hall (and guided by Andreas Kubach MW,) on viticulture. Topics included research on terroir, soil quality and nutrient management as well as the costs of land and trends around the world. If you are not familiar with the research of Kees Van Leeuwen, I highly recommend checking out his blog! He will also be speaking at the IMW’s Living Wine Symposium this June in Spain. We then ended the day with a valuable session delivered by Natasha Hughes MW on how to move forward after the course with a particular focus on passing the theory exam.

Our last night included the always fascinating, delicious and delightful BYOB dinner. This year, we took a slightly different approach where each student had to take a few moments to introduce the wine that they had brought. The stories that were shared amongst the group ranged from humorous to touching and added something very special to our final night.

We would like to say a sincere thank you to the Dourthe Group for their support and generosity, especially to Mathieu Chadronnier, Patrick Jestin and Marie-Hélène Inquimbert. There would truly be no seminar without the assistance of Marie-Hélène! I would also like to thank all of the MWs who shared their time, energy and expertise that week – you were all a joy to work with and based on the feedback from the students, it was an engaging and stimulating week. And judging by our record for the lowest beer consumption at Pey La Tour for a residential seminar ever, I would say that the commitment of the students in particular is at an all-time high and I expect to see much success this June. Especially if they don’t spit the Sherry.

Sheri Morano MW

Argentina MW trip

Well Argentina – excellent wine country. Just so contrasting to a man from another vast land of deserts, wild kangaroos and excellent sunshine.

A contrast greater than the vineyard vista is a wine producing country of hundreds of thousands of hectares. Spanish speaking, it shines on many Italian family business names with strong connections to Italia, growing French-imported grape varieties. It’s the total rainbow culture as the MW group walked amongst stark white arches in haciendas reminiscent of Spain. And Wines of Argentina chair Alberto Arizu sums up further: partly European, partly Latin and historic. Mine too.

The grape. Malbec. So true. But MWs wanted more than monovarietal wine. We investigated what makes the soul of Argentina, rode the malbec wave as this grape occupies all regions, climates and sites. Go beyond that as the huge vine evacuation project of the 80s re-aligned the industry towards premiumisation. This dry and thirsty country drinks the 70 per cent that it makes. But cheaply. Greater export options were proposed to the MW party.

And what else is special here. A unique water service, still tightly held by licencing rules providing melted snow from the Andes all summer long. The deadly word-furrow water delivery is readily and widely used, producing outstanding malbec and other varieties. Old water infrastructure remains valuable whereas new sites use drip. Phylloxera lives here but does not spread in the universal deep sandy loams. Vineyards fed by snow-driven mineral-rich loess water (silt) suffocates the insect. But new vineyards have rootstock defences in case.

Argentinians are infatuated by their terroir, mapping, site selection, elevation-grabbing and all things are explained about malbec in this continental clime. It dominates exports. This variety performs well in all arenas; tastes good, fills the mouth on the plain, streams across the tongue when made by the old ways. Or it tackles the mouth with tannin linearity and acidic coil at elevations beyond 1500 metres. Yes, that high, and higher and the wines are not herbal. The sun shines strong still and the grapes do ripen. Winker 1 to IV is the standard bearer for heat units and climate comparison.

Is there life after malbec? MWs were seeking it. The ancient pergola-grown mission/pais/criolla introduced by the Jesuits was an enlightening light red, and of national significance. Too little is left (50ha). Bonarda grows well, makes fine wine. Locals have underestimated their local hybrid white-torrontes, when grown and made well it gives heavenly aromatic, light crispy-fresh whites.

Mendoza remains the vineyard engine room. And the Los Compuertas region looks a star; ample old vines, sympathetic vinification in old or large oak, or in eggs, or in low tech natural states which teases out local rustic aromas and vine age concentrates. And malbec keeps its deep colours all round in all the regions inspected. Nearby Uco Valley is supporting new sauvignon, chardonnay, viognier, riesling and pinot noir reflections. These have linearity and ultra-level acidities in the world style. To the north high elevations in Calchaqui are pushing the ripeness boundaries with ease; to the south in Patagonia, lower elevations and cooler maritime conditions are the cradle of modest, restrained, acid-fresh sauvignons, pinots and rieslings.

The future? Strategically less malbec. But more of its international bed partner cabernet sauvignon in the dominating proportion. Stitch cabernet franc into this mix and complete more widely in countries brain dead to anything but cabernet. More natives-torrontes and criolla.

A vote of thanks to Wines of Argentina: MWs were hospitality soaked, comfy in long travel, surprised and enlightened in the environment, and I acknowledge the efforts to provide these learnings.

Peter Scudamore-Smith MW