Napa is always beautiful in February. Sunny and clement, her fields are bursting with mustard’s cheery yellow blooms. This year, Napa was a particularly lovely place to be as – for the first time – I sat on the other side of the table.

This was my first Masters of Wine Residential Seminar guiding MW candidates in their exploration of study materials and examination preparation. My first session was a morning tasting. I was with First Year candidates, so I walked through one of the questions and its four wines with fellow MW Pat Farrell. The idea was to show candidates how we would approach the question, as this was the first time most of them were sitting down to taste this way. Then, we set them off on their own to the task of blind tasting the remaining wines and answering their associated questions. As candidates settled into swirling, sniffing and scribbling and I sat back in my chair to observe, a wave of emotion overcame me. All those years of deducing wines and arguing for points…over! Wow! I did it. For all the effort and agony, it sure was worth it.

Sunday morning arrived with a very early 6 am wake-up call. It was my turn to get up early, taste and decant the wines for the 94 candidates taking the 12-wine blind examination that morning. Paper II, the red wine paper, was that day. There’s really nothing like starting your morning with a mouthful of tannin. No, really, that’s what you get with tea and coffee, too, right!? Never mind….

Monday I actually put myself to the test as did Canadian pal Rhys Pender MW. This was a classic Paper III exam with sparkling, sweet and fortified wines. I hadn’t been at the 6.45 am call, so I didn’t know what the sweet and fortified wines were. (We poured the sparklers as they can’t be decanted or they will lose their bubbles, so there was no deducing to be done there.) Sweet and fortified wines are very distinctive, and I always say that classic Paper III wines should never be missed. So, was my game still “on”? Happily, I performed pretty well. Whew! I missed the fortified-ness of one wine (critical error!), but I was on the money or close enough for the seven others. I can’t say it was particularly easy as there were some oddballs in there. Still, it was fun, especially since I wasn’t racing to make it through all the questions on time.

The rest of the week I was lecturing and work shopping on topics like establishing a vineyard, linking vine stress to fruit quality and preparing study topics in general. We gathered for a fun exercise Sunday afternoon where groups of candidates introduced new wine products to potential buyers. It was fun to consider Brazilian sparkling wine, among others, for restaurants and to hear how the candidates decided to market them in the end.

I’m looking forward to the next Residential Seminar, and perhaps next year I’ll go to one of the other programs in Bordeaux, Rust, Cookham or Adelaide. I’m looking forward to helping candidates progress through the program, and I can’t wait to see who is next to join me on the other side of the table.