Should I Pursue A MW? What Do You Think Of The WSET SAT?

by odd coincidence, i have lately received many requests for advice about the master of wine program and in the same email, asking for my thoughts on the wset systematic approach to tasting.  kind people who found my contact details through this blog, facebook, or my tweets.  each one is a passionate wine lover who wants to pursue their studies in the field of wine.  each have pretty much done the same as i did: wset levels 2, 3 and 4.  each now working in a field unrelated to wine, but each have some part-time connections to the industry, either as wine judges or freelance journalists, or other.

after the huge undertaking that is the wset diploma, it is normal that one would ask: what's next?  the mw is the obvious answer. it is a natural extension of the wset diploma.  in fact, it is now a recommendation for those who want to join the "program". 

frankly, 2 years into it, i find myself both transformed and humbled.  let's never forget that the wset and the mw are actually trade qualifications.  yes, until level 3, wset can be quite pleasant and very informative for wine lovers. but the diploma is another beast altogether and definitely so is the mw.  both of these demand a tremendous commitment of time, and energy, and both require deep insights into the industry.

as i am not involved in the industry on a full time basis, i find the mw program to be challenging in ways that i did not imagine before entering it.  it is extremely rigorous, it pushes one to think things through deeply, and more importantly, it instills a discipline of consistency, and objectivity.

mind you, not being full time in the industry is not a liability. however, i find that it slows down the process by much.  perhaps i am doing this in the wrong way, but i really believe that what is expected from mw candidates is that they think about the issues deep, long, and wide.  experience is one way to acquire such depth of thoughts but so is time.  this is why for me this year i will not take the exam, even though i could.  i feel that i need more time to develop a more mature approach to the issues facing the industry and to think things through more deeply and widely.


as for the wset systematic approach to tasting, "sat" for short, i find it puzzling that wset students all over the world seem to find it such a straight jacket.  some going as far as mocking it even as it is their lifeline into passing the exam.  in fact, i noticed it to be a advantage over mw candidates who have not completed the wset diploma.  tasting exams are all about being organized and systematic.  key is time management, but also key is to clearly and confidently identify the essential markers that leads one to logically and confidently identify the wines, the regions, the quality, and the production methods in a blind tasting.  the wset sat is really excellent for this.  however, and this is why perhaps some mock it, the sat can be a little cumbersome in some situations.  for example, one does not have time to carefully use it while judging wine at a competition or analyzing wines at a mw exam.  but there is a way to abbreviate it so it becomes efficient and consistent.  

in fact, it seems that the successful mw candidates are those who have developed a "grid" that works for them at the exam.  the "grid" is very much the same as the wset sat.  but shorter, more efficient, and abbreviated.  

it makes absolute sense when one thinks about it.  if one goes to vinitaly for wine sourcing for example, it is easy to lose track of the tastings.  imagine, 4400 producers that exhibit at least 6-8 wines each.  after 4 days of this, tasting from 9 in the morning until 6 at night, how can one keep track?  a "system" is required.  the sat is an excellent one i found.  but now, i am now developing my own grid for my exam and i foresee this 'grid" to become a super efficient and rigorous system to analyse and score a large number of wines and not to lose the plot at wine fair and other wine manifestations.


all this to say is that the mw qualification is very much a qualification for the trade.  it aims to train wine tradespeople to be acutely rigorous, consistent, and fully knowledgeable of the issues facing the industry.  it is my intention to develop my career in the industry on a more full time basis.  this is my motivation to pursue this qualification. however,  i frankly admit that if i would not have this goal, i would certainly ask myself why, why oh why going through such a rigorous process?  for the love of wine?  there are frankly other ways to celebrate this love that are much more pleasant and certainly less painful...

for someone who wants to be involved in some capacity in the wine trade. the mw qualification is definitely providing the necessary discipline, guidance, and momentum to fully develop the thoughts, the skills, and the abilities to understand wine in a way that very few other education program can offer.