New Zealand now has 15 Masters of Wine (MW). Globally, there are only 418 – 149 women and 269 men – in 32 countries. Since the first exam nearly 70 years ago, just 493 people have become MWs.

New Zealand has done pretty well. According to my calculations, we have more MWs per capita than any major country except the United Kingdom, which is where the qualification was born. The top countries where MWs are based around the world are the UK (210), the United States (56), Australia (28), France (18), New Zealand (15) and Canada (10). 

The latest Kiwi MW is Sophie Parker-Thomson, a wine producer and wine-industry consultant based in Marlborough. She was raised in the wine regions of Gisborne and Central Otago and winemaking and hospitality featured strongly in her upbringing. 

After gaining a law degree and admission to the bar, Parker-Thomson felt the inevitable pull back to the wine industry, moving to Marlborough for the 2011 harvest. It was there she met her future husband, Matt Thomson. Together, they founded their premium wine venture, Blank Canvas, in 2013, crafting small-batch wines from exceptional single-vineyard sites in Marlborough, Central Otago and the Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay. Recently, they also launched Lock, Stock & Barrel, which provides comprehensive wine-industry consulting services spanning from vine to bottle. 

Parker-Thomson ordinarily travels multiple times a year to Europe for work, including for vintage. A zealous advocate of the quality and sub-regional diversity of New Zealand and particularly Marlborough wines, she has also been a New Zealand consultant to the World Atlas of Wine (8th edition). She also enjoys wine writing, educating and judging.

I asked Parker-Thomson for her reaction to the big news that she had been recognised as an MW. “[I’m] feeling very overwhelmed, yet relieved, mostly. But, really, it’s been such a roller coaster of emotions.” 

Her reaction is understandable. She passed some really tough exams to be accepted as a member of an elite organisation that was established to promote excellence in the wine trade at the very highest level. 

Could you make a decent fist of answering one of the following questions taken from the “Contemporary Issues” multiple-choice section of the 2019 Master of Wine exam? 

* Does wine have a significant role to play in a healthy lifestyle?

* How responsible is the wine industry? 

* What makes wine authentic?

The questions look deceptively easy. They are deliberately open-ended to test the student’s depth of knowledge on a single topic. 

The MW exam takes place over three stages:

Stage one consists of a five-day residential seminar and four non-residential course days. Up to six pieces of work need to be submitted for assessment during the year. Candidates are assessed in June in London, San Francisco or Adelaide. The assessment involves a 12-wine blind-tasting paper and two theory essays. 

Stage two involves a five-day residential seminar and four non-residential course days. Six pieces of work have to be submitted during the year. At the end of stage two, candidates sit three 12-wine blind tastings and five papers on viticulture, vinification and pre-bottling procedures, the handling of wine, the business of wine, and contemporary issues. 

Stage three is the final part of the MW exam, requiring an individual piece of work between 6000 and 10,000 words in length.

For more information, go to 

Bob’s Top Picks

Investment Wine

Prophet’s Rock 2015 Retrospect Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $134

Only released after at least five years in bottle. From a tiny parcel on the Home vineyard. Elegant, fine-grained pinot noir with violet, plum, dark cherry, spice, roasted chestnut and spicy oak flavours. Vibrant, high energy wine. Should age well.

Weekend Wines

Top White

Church Road 2019 McDonald Series Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay, $24.99

Bright, poised chardonnay with citrus/grapefruit, struck-flint, nectarine, baguette-crust and cashew-nut flavours. Stylish wine with impressive purity and energy. Subtle power and an ethereal texture. Very good value at this price.

Top Red 

Stonecroft 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Hawke’s Bay, $45

Intense, ripe wine from a vintage that really favours cabernet sauvignon. The wine shows strong varietal definition, with cassis, blackberry, cedar, mint and oak-derived chocolate/mocha characters. Elegant wine with great cellaring potential.

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