Justin Howard-Sneyd is one of only 370 Masters of Wine (MW) in the world. We at The Flying Winemaker are very fortunate enough to know Justin personally and he has kindly helped us by telling us about what it takes to be a MW.
Justin's journey into wine has been a long but very rewarding road. In his early life, he worked in wine shops, ran a wine school, worked as a cellar-hand and assistant winemaker in 4 different countries to now being a producer of his own wines "Domaine of the Bee" in the Roussillon region of the South of France. Justin is also a very respected wine consultant for a wide range of wine businesses around the world, helping them to maximise their potential. Justin's major client is Laithwaite's Wine, the world's largest and most successful Direct-to-consumer wine business, where he also spent 3 years as their Global Wine Director.
It's safe to say that Justin certainly does know a thing or 7 about wine. We asked him a few questions about being an MW and he has very kindly provided us with insightful answers. Enjoy!
What does being an MW mean to you?
The best thing about being an MW is being part of the best wine network in the world, with fellow MWs in nearly 30 countries, working in all sorts of different sectors of the trade.
How many MWs are there in the world?
The official number is now over 370. Between 10-25 people pass each year.
What made you decide to become an MW?
I always swore I’d never study for the MW as I promised myself I’d never sit another exam after I graduated, and I saw how much work was involved for the MW. But then I went to work for a UK supermarket, and they were willing to sponsor my study, and I thought ‘why not?’. And as soon as I started studying, I loved it.
How long did it take you to become an MW?
I passed 2 years after I started, which is impossible now as the ‘Research Paper’ can’t be started until the rest of the exam is passed, so the quickest you can do it nowadays is 3 years.
Is there any pressure on you personally, being an MW?
Not really - I am the first to admit when I don’t know something, and the world of wine changes so quickly that it is hard to keep your knowledge relevant and up-to-date. I do get put on the spot to identify wines sometimes, which is always a bit of a minefield….
Justin in his vineyards at Domaine of the Bee - Photo Credit: the-buyer.net
What opportunities have been afforded to you being an MW?
I changed jobs after passing the MW, and holding the qualification was an important factor in my being offered the job. And as a consultant, being an MW is very important to me to bolster my credibility when meeting new potential clients.
Are there any disadvantages of being an MW?
How has being an MW helped you be a successful businessman?
The MW gives you an amazing grounding across the world of wine, and covers things in some detail that you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to in your job. And being an MW opens doors to certain people and situations that can be really helpful. But while the MW has a commercial element, it is not a business qualification, and there is no substitute for real business experience.
As an MW what industry fields can you go into besides wine?
The clue is in the title - the knowledge accumulated is really only applicable to the world of wine, but some of the skills are transferable to the world of gastronomy, or other food and drink products.
As an MW, what are your go-to wines?
I am a sucker for Mosel Riesling, Grenache-based reds, NZ Pinots and dessert wines from Tokaji and Jurancon.
A beautiful selection of Justin's Domaine of the Bee wines - Photo Credit: Domaine of the Bee
On a final note: