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.