The theory papers

The theory papers form one of the three parts of the full Master of Wine examination. The other two parts are the practical papers, and the RP.

The theory papers and the practical papers together are known as the 'closed book' part of the examination. They are taken by students during examination week, which is usually in early June, at one of the IMW's three examination centres - London, Napa, and Sydney. Five papers make up the theory examination:

Paper 1 - viticulture

Examines candidates' knowledge and understanding of viticulture up to the completion of the harvest and grape transportation.

Paper 2 - vinification and pre-bottling procedures

Examines candidates' knowledge and understanding of vinification of still, sparkling and fortified wines from arrival of grapes at a winery to the finished wines, ready for preparation for bottling. 

Paper 3 - handling of wine

Examines candidates’ knowledge and understanding of quality assurance, quality control, packaging, transport and legal requirements.

Paper 4 - the business of wine

Examines candidates’ knowledge and understanding of current financial, commercial and marketing aspects of the international wine industry.

Paper 5 - contemporary issues

Examines candidates’ ability to demonstrate communication skills, individual insights, and knowledge by writing in depth on subjects that are of relevance to today’s wine industry.


Theory papers 1, 2 and 3: The production of wine

Theory papers 1, 2, and 3 together make up the part of the MW examination known as ‘the production of wine’. 

The purpose of these papers is to assess your knowledge and understanding of wine production.

An understanding of the processes of grape growing and winemaking should be complemented by knowledge of the science which underlies the practical issues. You should be aware of the implications for wine style, quality and costs of decisions taken at each stage of wine production. An awareness of areas of active research in topics relevant to wine production will be necessary.

Whilst region specific questions are unlikely, you will need broad background knowledge of the world’s wine regions and wine styles. The examples given in answers should demonstrate a familiarity with a variety of wine regions. You should know how issues such as finance, economics, law, general management, quality assurance, quality control and the environment bear on wine production.

You will be expected to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the following in each paper:

Theory paper 1 – Viticulture

  • The characteristics of the vine: vine species; vine varieties; clones; the development of new vine varieties; vine propagation; rootstocks and grafting; the growth cycle of the vine; the life cycle of the vine.
  • The establishment, re-planting and acquisition of vineyards: the practical and economic issues of planting or re-planting vineyards; issues concerning the acquisition of vineyards through purchase or inheritance.
  • Factors affecting grape growing: climate; weather; soil; aspect; the effect of all these factors on wine style, quality, yield and cost; the concept of ‘terroir’.
  • Cultivation of the vine: types and methods of pruning and training; underlying principles and practical applications of canopy management; irrigation; the application of fertilisers; the use of herbicides; green harvesting; implications for yield of all of the above; bio-dynamic, organic, and other alternative cultivation methods. 
  • Maladies of the vine and their control: vine pests; vine diseases; physiological disorders; prevention and control of the above.
  • The structure and composition of grapes: grape structure; chemical composition of grapes, e.g. sugars, acids, anthocyanins, tannins; analytical techniques; fruit ripeness; noble rot. 
  • Harvesting of grapes: timing of the harvest; picking options; grape transportation; quality and cost implications. 


Theory paper 2 – Vinification and pre-bottling procedures

  • Processing of grapes: grape reception; grape handling strategies, e.g. de-stalking, crushing, pressing and skin contact; must treatments; temperature control.
  • Fermentation: alcoholic fermentation; the role of yeast, enzymes, temperature and fermentation vessels; strategies for the extraction of colour, aroma, flavour and tannin; carbonic maceration, whole bunch fermentation and thermovinification; theory and practice of malolactic conversion.
  • Maturation and blending: maturation options for the winemaker; types of maturation vessel; inert storage; blending options; timing of preparation for bottling.
  • Stabilisation and clarification: methods of stabilisation and clarification, e.g. fining, filtration, centrifugation; the use of chemicals in winemaking and wine handling – their function, action and application; international regulations governing the use of chemicals.
  • Production of sparkling wines: production techniques for sparkling wines; grape selection and pressing; temperature control; selection and blending of base wines; the second fermentation; maturation; finishing.
  • Production of fortified wines: production techniques for fortified wines; selection of base wines; timing of fortification; practice and significance of blending and maturation; finishing.


Theory paper 3 – Handling of wine

  • Preparation of finished wines for bottling: cold stabilisation and final filtration of wine for bottling.
  • Packing and labelling: methods of packaging; different types of packages; ingredient labelling; closures.
  • Quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC): composition of wine and its faults; analysis of wine, its purpose, use and limitations; QA and QC systems and structures for wine and dry goods; practical issues of QA and QC; compliance with statutory regulations; effects of storage on wine after packing; methods of bulk transport; quality assurance before and during bulk transport and checking procedures on receipt of the bulk wine.


Theory paper 4 – The business of wine

The purpose of this paper is to assess your knowledge and understanding of current financial, commercial and marketing aspects of the international wine industry. You should demonstrate your ability to apply your knowledge to a range of business situations including marketing and investment strategies, financial decision-making, supplier/customer relationships and strategies for identifying and meeting consumer demand. You will need a broad background knowledge of wine industry structures from around the world and how these relate to one another.

You will be expected to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the following in paper 4:

The theory and practice of marketing wine:

  • Marketing strategy applied to growers, producers, exporters and importers, buyers and sellers.
  • Market research, applied to existing and potential wine purchasers with clear understanding of techniques of information gathering and analysis as well as awareness of consumption trends nationally and internationally.
  • Product marketing applied to different sectors of the market for wine; actors influencing market segmentation; theory and practical application of product positioning and branding in relation to the market and product range.
  • Promotional and sales techniques relevant to the wine industry; understanding of the role of advertising and public relations and use of communications and social media.
  • Pricing trends nationally and internationally, e.g. producer, en primeur, wholesale, retail and at auction.

Financial and commercial awareness:

  • Financial and commercial structures affecting all sectors of the wine industry, e.g. negociants, agents, brand owners, brokers, grape growers and co-operatives, wineries, large multinational producers, marketing co-operatives, merchants, consultants, specialists, supermarkets, wine chains and mail order operators. 
  • Factors to be considered when appraising investment decisions in different industry sectors.
  • Influences on business decisions including strategic planning, national and international laws, taxation and currency fluctuations.
  • Whilst you are not assumed to be specialists in finance you may be expected to demonstrate a broad understanding of balance sheets, profit and loss accounts and how costing and pricing decisions are made in the wine industry.

Trends and challenges facing wine producing countries and regions:

  • Export shares and trends for significant producing countries and regions (specific examples should be used to support your answers).
  • Broad knowledge of industry structures world-wide is essential and this may be supplemented by specific examples from regions with which you are most familiar.


Theory paper 5 – Contemporary issues

The purpose of this paper is to assess your ability to demonstrate communication skills, your individual insights and your knowledge by writing in depth on subjects which are of relevance to today’s wine industry. To be successful you will need to demonstrate:

  • Your ability to write persuasively, authoritatively, imaginatively and fluently, showing a breadth of understanding of contemporary wine issues.
  • Your knowledge and analysis of social, historical, cultural, health, ethical, educational, communication and media issues relevant to the wine industry.
  • Your understanding of moderation in wine consumption including activities that have been undertaken in different geographies to prevent and reduce alcohol abuse and related harm.