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As many Canadians awaited plans for the return to school, some elated students received word that they were the world’s newest Masters of Wine. Sixteen candidates from nine countries, including four Canadians, learned at the end of August they passed the arduous Master of Wine course, which has a notoriously low pass rate of roughly 10 per cent.

Jacqueline Cole Blisson from Montreal is Quebec’s first MW, while Geoffrey Moss and Louise Wilson join other masters working respectively in the wine industries of the Okanagan Valley and Niagara region. Newfoundland native Tracey Dobbin, who has lived in Bordeaux, France, since 2011, was also named.

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With the August announcement of the 16 newly minted members, there are now 409 MWs based in 30 countries. With 10 Masters of Wine calling Canada home, we join Australia, France, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. as one of the countries with the most. Their work ranges from positions in grape-growing and winemaking through to retailing, writing and educating about wine.

Targeted at those working in the international wine trade, the credential was launched more than 65 years ago as an exam for the U.K. wine trade. Candidates must have three years of work experience and a diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust or its equivalent to sign on for studies. The related and equally difficult-to-achieve Master Sommelier designation is conferred by the Court of Master Sommeliers, which aims to improve standards of beverage knowledge and service in hotels and restaurants.

Before being able to tackle the research paper that completes their studies, Master of Wine candidates must pass intensive theory and practical blind-tasting exams held over consecutive mornings at sites in London, San Francisco or Adelaide, Australia, to complete the second stage of their studies.

The first step is a foundation or assessment program, which includes conquering a 12-wine blind-tasting paper and two theory essays to prove one’s mettle. The material aims to test theoretical knowledge and practical skills in the art, science and business of wine.

According to the Institute of Masters of Wine, which governs the study program, 17 students from Canada are working towards the credential. That number is likely to increase later this month when a new crop of candidates moves to Stage Two.

Back in 1953 when the first exam was sat, only six out of the 21 candidates passed. By 1990, 151 men and women held the title, including the first North American MWs. Igor Ryjenkov became Canada’s first in 2003, followed by Barbara Philip in 2007.

Each year, the questions are set and marked by a panel of MWs with guidance from an external adjudicator, which means the demanding task only becomes more difficult each year.

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