There are only 340 people in the world who can tack “MW” on the end of their name. The coursework and various exams required to achieve the Master of Wine distinction are such that many people never make it through the program. For others, it takes years of tenacity and hard work—something we witnessed first-hand as Mollie Battenhouse, a newly minted MW, has stopped by the office for years to taste wines on our blind panels at Wine & Spirits.
The exam is a three-part process, and a student of the program must pass all: theory, practical and a research paper.
For her first attempt, she wrote about a topic she knew well: marketing wine by style and flavor, an approach to selling wine largely pioneered by Best Cellars, where she was working at the time. While she thought it was fascinating, the Insititute didn’t seem to agree. “I was so into it—it took the world by storm when Best Cellars first started that—but I needed to pay more attention to what they [the Institute] wanted out of the students, and not so much what excited me.”
For her second attempt, Battenhouse tackled online wine education, building an online course on Bordeaux she administered to 120 students. That didn’t work, either. Years later, she handed in her third attempt, a paper focused on cabernet franc in New York State. The call came at 3 am on September 7: she had finally passed.
Looking back at her experiences, she advises that anyone going for the MW make sure they understand first what they are getting into. “It can be a very lonely process,” she says, “You never see other students and work in a vacuum.” For instance, she’s never even met her MW mentor, Amy Christine, MW, in person. At the same time, she says, reaching out to people is essential: she credits not only Christine as integral to her success, for active support and for pointing out potential pitfalls, but also the wide range of people she looked to for advice and information while preparing her last paper.
Battenhouse was the only American to have been awarded the MW in this latest round, a particularly robust group that included Marcus Ansems, Konstantiin Baum, Victoria Burt, Wendy Cameron, Lynne Coyle, Dawn Davies, Romana Echensperger, Rebecca Gibb, Richard Hemming, Yiannis Karakasis, Sarah Knowles, Eugene Mlynczyk, Kenichi Ohashi, Andrea Pritzker, Janek Schumann, Emma Symington, Ying Tan and Taina Vikuna. .
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Caitlin Griffith knew her future career would entail food and drink when, at the age of six, she munched an anchovy from her father’s Caesar salad thinking it as a small strip of bacon—and was more than pleasantly surprised. While enrolled in New York University’s Food Studies program, she learned the secrets of affinage in the caves of Murray’s Cheese.
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