In Wine
on 01 Oct 2020

In 2008 I started working in the wine industry and realized I wanted to learn everything I possibly could about wine. I wasn’t sure how to do this, being about to graduate with a degree in a completely unrelated field, but hey, there was a recession on, and jobs in the beverage business paid the bills.

Welcome

In 2010 I learned that there was something called a Master of Wine. I was spending a lot of time around people who were very much of the “school of hard knocks” philosophy and I had no money, so I didn’t pursue any fancy wine education. But it stuck in my head because, well, it sounded awesome.

In 2015 I realized I was never going to love anything as much as wine, even when I was using it to pay the bills. In fact, working with wine made me love it more. (Working as a writer made me broke and maximally neurotic.) I went to Napa to get my WSET Advanced, and an instructor there explained the path to higher levels of wine education and the Master of Wine study program. Horrible at concealing excitement as usual, I asked him what was probably a pretty dorky follow-up question, and he said, “You’ll be one of the ones who takes that path. I can see it in your eyes already.” When you grow up with ADHD, teachers don’t tell you things like that very often, so I didn’t forget it.

In 2017 I moved to Oregon and found my first professional wine community, with tasting partners and study buddies and some incredible new friends. In 2019 I got my WSET Diploma with their help.

And last month I was accepted into the Master of Wine study program. I saw the words “You are an MW student” on my screen, and I burst into tears.

I wasn’t at all expecting to get in and I wasn’t even sure what I would do if I did get in. But I went back into the dusty corridors of my Google drive and read old emails and found docs and spreadsheets and conversations dating back nearly ten years, each one mapping out my path to the MW program. I realized I’ve been building my life around this dream for so long that there’s no way I can let it go. I have support from my partner, family, job, and network. I have no kids, no pets, good health, and time to spare with half the world closed down. There’s no excuse.

It would be fair to ask why anyone in their right mind would do this right now, when the nightmares of 2020 haven’t even ended and we’re staring down an existential threat to our industry. I guess what I came around to is that I want to help, and reaching the highest level of education possible in this field seems like a good way to start. I also think there’s something to be said for taking time every day to remember that there’s a big world out there that is continuing to spin—vines are going to grow, bottles are going to get popped, and no one has time for inertia. I want to give back to the industry that has given me so much adventure and friendship and happiness, and I want to become the best teacher I can be for my students, and I want to learn how to build a better wine industry and I want to make that happen.

So, uh, here goes. Thanks to my Aunt Julie (without whose support this new adventure would not be possible) for asking if I’d start up the blog again. I take a lot of inspiration from Nova Cadamatre MW, and I’ve found her blog about the MW journey to be a huge source of strength and encouragement. I’ll try to make this a helpful resource as well. Succeed or fail—and the MW program comes with a very high risk of failure at one point or another—I’ve realized recently that it’s nice to have a way to look back on where you’ve been.

Julia Burke reviews South African wine and writes about social justice, the South African wine industry, and her own adventures in winemaking.