by Andrew Chalk
The Master of Wine (M.W.) qualification is the most prestigious and demanding qualification in wine education in the world. In 60 years of the existence of The Institute of Masters of Wine only 312 people have passed the rigorous set of exams. Until recently none lived in Texas, let alone Dallas. However, all of that changed last week with the successful completion of the tough examination process by Dilek Caner, a Dallas wine educator. She had previously been a sommelier at Restaurant Alain Ducasse although her education was in economics, including a Ph.D. from New York University. That training doubtless helped her with her dissertation for the M.W. degree which dealt with US consumer and trade perspectives around Washington State Syrah.
I asked her about the examination procedure.
“I am not sure if you’re familiar with the structure of the exam but just in case you don’t here is a rundown: It is already a challenge to be accepted to the program. You need to have extensive industry experience or have completed the WSET Diploma, although neither of these guarantee you a spot. After that you have to attend the Napa Seminars once a year for two years minimum (usually longer) before you take the exam. The exam lasts for four days (almost 19 hours) which is a marathon in itself and you’re tested rigorously on your grasp of viticulture, vinification, business of wine, contemporary issues in wine and your tasting ability (including being able to tell how a wine is made in addition to its origin, varieties, vintage and potential position in the market, and all of this just by tasting the wine). Then you have to do an original piece of research which also includes bugging thousands of wine industry members to answer your surveys to tell you what they think of your particular research question. (I am truly grateful to all those wine friends who so generously put some of their time into answering these surveys). And of course, you have to analyze and tie the whole thing up and then reduce it down to 10,000 words. It is a huge undertaking.”
With all that involved I inquired as to what was the hardest thing in the M.W. process:
“The hardest thing was to get up and get running every morning when nobody told you to do it, and when you knew perfectly well that you could be making all of this effort with nothing to show for in the end. MW is a self-study program. You do get to go to Napa once a year for the Educational Seminar but then it’s all up to you. You have to decide on what to study and how to structure it. External factors like going to school everyday, classmates, frequent quizzes and teachers are not present. If you don’t become an MW in the end, there is no interim qualification that says you’ve completed this and that part of it. Given that so few people achieve it you know that you might very well get nothing (There are only 312 MWs in the world, and 34 in the USA. There is now only one MW residing in TX), self-motivation part of it was quite challenging.”
Dilek plans to continue wine education in Dallas but also has a couple of other projects up her sleeves for the future.