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?

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-howard-sneyd

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?

Sadly nowadays, we live in a world where being ‘an expert’ can be seen as a negative. I think that having a double-barrelled name, being English, white, male and middle-aged leads people to expect a certain personality type, and the letters MW only seem to reinforce these preconceptions. People assume you are formal, stuffy and overly serious. Obviously the truth is very different, and people who meet me often say ‘you are not like what I expected from 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.

Domaine of the beee

A beautiful selection of Justin's Domaine of the Bee wines - Photo Credit: Domaine of the Bee


On a final note:

"Someone once said that to be an MW, you have to investigate like a detective and argue like a lawyer.
 
It helps if you can write clearly and fluently, and it is essential to be able to structure an argument in an essay format.
 
Apart from that, you need to taste a lot, across a wide range of wine, so it helps if you live in a wine culture with access to a wide range of wines, plus friends who can taste and drink with you!" - Justin Howard-Sneyd
 
Thank you Justin for your valuable insight on what it takes to be an MW. We appreciate your time and this will be extremely beneficial for anyone looking to become an MW.


 

Kyle Oosterberg

Written by Kyle Oosterberg

Kyle is our Wine Director, which means he’s our go-to wine guy when Eddie isn’t around. At The Flying Winemaker we aim to make wine accessible to everyone in a way as far away from textbook learning as possible, and Kyle always keeps this in mind, combining fun and education when he hosts wine tastings.

At the tender age of 16 Kyle began his journey at the prestigious and award-winning Spier Wine Farm in Stellenbosch, South Africa. There he gained experience in all aspects of wine production, including working vines during harvest, marketing, representing wineries at trade events and educating visitors in the tasting room.

When away from work Kyle moonlights as Batman after a few beers, but he can also be found near any large body of water pursuing his other passion, surfing. He has only one weakness: working with computers and any technology made after 1990.

Favourite wines: Chenin Blanc for white wines and Pinot Noir for red

 

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