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November 10, 2016
As the former Executive Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine, what was the relevance of wine authentication to the organization?
Wow! This is a difficult question to answer, and it must be done from a number of different perspectives.
The first, and easiest, way to tackle this question is to ask if it is part of the MW syllabus. The answer is yes, although not explicitly. One of the things I particularly like about the MW exam is that its syllabus has a flexibility to it that requires MW candidates to be aware of virtually everything that is going on in the world of wine, which obviously includes counterfeits. I think it is safe to say that counterfeit wines are unlikely to be on the Practical exam (not least because it would be both impractical, illegal and and unethical to buy them, not to mention the legal implications of knowingly putting students at risk by making them ingest them).
However, wine authenticity is something of huge relevance to the theory portion of the exam, both directly, such as this question from 2014: “To what extent is fake wine a problem in today’s wine market?” and as a critical element of other questions addressing branding, distribution strategy, secondary markets, labels and a wide variety of other topics. In addition, the third part of the exam, the Dissertation (now Research Paper) is a prime area of focus should someone wish to delve into the topic, as Rhys Pender MW did for his dissertation.
Beyond the study element, is wine authentication relevant to the Institute of Masters of Wine?
There are individual MWs for whom I have an enormous amount of respect in the Institute who take the matter very seriously indeed. Serena Sutcliffe MW, former head of Sotheby’s wine department, is head and shoulders at the top of this list, but I would be remiss not to mention David Molyneux-Berry MW, Clive Coates MW, and David Peppercorn MW as included in this group. Sheri Morano MW actively works in wine authentication for Chai Consulting. Rhys Pender MW wrote his dissertation on the topic, with specific relevance to top Californian producers, and for producers like Fiona Morrison MW (Le Pin, L’If) it is a matter of utmost importance.
There are others, however, for whom counterfeit wine is viewed as much less of an issue than, in my opinion, it should be, and as a result, it is not something on which the Institute as a whole has been seen to take a firm position. I think this is a missed opportunity, and one that would be welcomed by the vast majority of its members and by its supporters. It will be interesting to see if this develops as awareness of the breadth and depth of the issue increases.