The London-based Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) has for decades represented the world’s highest level of training regarding wine. The program culminates in successful candidates receiving the coveted title Master of Wine.
Master of Wine (MW) is a qualification, not an academic degree, and is generally regarded in the wine industry as one of the highest standards of professional knowledge. Qualification to become a Master of Wine demands comprehensive knowledge of the international wine business, wine distribution and marketing, and requires immense knowledge about wines from all over the world.
Before enrolling in the MW study program, prospective students must hold an advanced wine qualification, at least Diploma level from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) or an appropriately high-level sommelier certificate, such as Advanced Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMA). Prospective students need to have a minimum of three years of professional work experience in the global wine community. Applicants must submit a basic essay, a tasting paper, a brief statement explaining their interest in becoming a Master of Wine. They must also have a reference to support their application from a Master of Wine or another senior wine trade professional.
On joining the program, students will be assigned a Master of Wine as their mentor. Students can study the program from anywhere in the world, with the option to attend seminars at either of the study centers in Australasia, Europe and North America, and every student in the study program has an MW mentor. There are three stages to the program, and the minimum time it takes to qualify as an MW is three years.
The MW exam is a series of blind tasting exams along with theory papers and an in-depth research project. Stage 1 is the foundation year and gives students the opportunity to meet Masters of Wine and fellow students in both professional and social settings. The stage 1 assessment includes six pieces of work evaluated during the year, culminating in an exam. For stage 2, students must pass both the Theory and Practical parts of the exam. Stage 3 consists of writing a sole-authorship research paper between 6,000 and 10,000 words in length on a topic of the student’s choice. The exam tests the breadth and depth of a candidate’s theoretical knowledge and tasting skills in the art, science and business of wine.
After successfully passing all three elements of the exam, candidates become a member of the IMW, gain the title ‘Master of Wine’ and can use the initials MW after their name. After passing the exam, MWs are required to sign a code of conduct before they are entitled to use the initials MW. The code of conduct requires MWs to uphold the highest standards of commercial conduct within the industry.
Since the first exam in 1953, only 496 people have become a Master of Wine. Today, members hold a range of occupations including winemakers, viticulturists, winemaking consultants, wine writers and journalists, wine educators, and wine service, restaurant and hotel management. In addition, many are involved in the purchasing, importing, distribution, sales and marketing of wine. The one thing they have in common is their shared experience in the MW study program, a journey that requires dedication and motivation.