The Institute of Masters of Wine has named ten new Masters of Wine including Elsa Macdonald. Macdonald, director of wine education for Arterra Wines and a CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers) national board member becomes Canada’s sixth ever Master of Wine.
The full list of the new Masters of Wine is: Almudena Alberca MW (Spain), Barbara Drew MW (UK), Olga Karapanou Crawford MW (USA), Regine Lee MW (UK), Elsa Macdonald MW (Canada), Thomas Parker MW (UK), Lindsay Pomeroy MW (USA), Nicolas Quillé MW (USA), Job de Swart MW (Netherlands) and Tim Triptree MW (UK).
There are now 380 Masters of wine, based in 30 countries.
The new Members of the IMW have proved their understanding of all aspects of wine by passing the Master of Wine examination, recognized worldwide for its rigour and high standards.
The MW examination consists of three stages, including theory and practical exams, and culminates in the submission of a final research paper, an in-depth study on a wine-related topic from any area of the sciences, arts, humanities, or social sciences.
In addition to passing the examination, all MWs are required to sign the MW code of conduct before they are entitled to use the initials MW. The code of conduct requires MWs to act with honesty and integrity and to use every opportunity to share their understanding of wine with others.
More information about the new Masters of Wine: https://www.mastersofwine.org/en/news/index.cfm/id/2B15B7B1-4085-4531-9CA88131A962C9C3
Elsa Macdonald has become the sixth Canadian Master of Wine and only the second woman from Canada. Elsa was a management consultant in the telecom and financial sectors until 2003 when she heeded the call to pursue her passion for wine and changed careers. Now Director of Wine Education at Arterra Wines Canada, Elsa shares her knowledge and zeal for wine with sommeliers, WSET Diploma students and trade professionals across the country. She serves on the national board of directors for the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers and is certified by the same body. When she isn't teaching or tasting you can find Elsa exploring the world’s wine regions where she continues to cultivate her experiences and engage others in her passionate pursuits. Elsa also holds a master of science (telecom) from Syracuse University, New York and a bachelor's degree from Ryerson University, Toronto.
After a journey of wine education and travels to far flung wine regions around the world that has lasted more than a decade – she was awarded wine education’s ultimate honour on August 31st.2018.
Kim Gertler spoke to Elsa Macdonald hours after hearing the news of her acceptance.
Kim Gertler (KG): Congratulations – It’s been a long journey to get here - Can you believe it?
Elsa Macdonald (EM): I’m totally still in disbelief – I’ve reread the email 17 times but yes I am elated and excited…
KG: What does being a Master of Wine mean to you?
EM: I changed careers in 2003 and when I first came into the business, I thought I knew something about wine but I very quickly realized that I really didn’t know anything. I wanted to be credible. I wanted to be able to speak about wine in a knowledgeable way. So I started to take courses and once you start doing it, it becomes more and more addictive and I realized that it continues to be the more you know – the more you know you don’t know – and it’s never ending. After I finished my WSET Diploma, I figured that’s it. Then two years later, I kind of missed studying.
So I went to the symposium at the Institute for the Masters of Wine in Bordeaux in 2010 after I met the people who were involved in the institute and heard the level of discussion in the panel of presentations – that was it –I just wanted to be a part of that community – right from then. So then it was just a matter of applying. So it is very exciting to be at this point now.
KG: So tell me just a bit about the highs and the lows of that journey and what the experience of getting here was like for you.
EM: In the early days, when I went to Bordeaux I met with Peter Marks and Mark DeVere (who worked for the same company as me but out of California). When you meet your first MW’s and during that first conversation they didn’t laugh you out of the room – that was a high. There was another event – my first seminar - in Napa that I attended and just being around so many wine folks and that there were 12 glasses of wine in front of me and I was just so thrilled I couldn’t focus because I was there, you know, I was part of it. So those were definite highs. And then a year and a half in I entered an MW essay competition and I was absolutely thrilled to have won. The prize was a trip to Australia where I went on a study tour and I remember giving one winemaker my list of questions and he said “Yup those are good questions but here is what you really need to know!” They took me under their wind and I really saw all the parts of the business. People open the door with a great spirit of “no no really - here’s how it’s really done.”
I got into a bit of a grind writing the exam and hoping that you are going to pass. The first time I didn’t pass either side. In my second year, I passed my theory and I was absolutely over the moon so that was a bit of a high. Getting the theory exam done, I thought now I only have to study for one exam – the tasting. So that will be a shoe-in! That was a real low when I didn’t pass that year but I realized I didn’t deserve to. Another low spot was about four months before the next year when I was prepping to do the tasting exam again….so probably one of the highest points was getting that phone call from Executive Director Penny Richards saying that I had passed the tasting exam because then it felt like it was possible. I knew the research paper would be a challenge but it was within my control, whereas the tasting…you know.
KG: Yes, that’s a big challenge. In the sommelier world, wine education is an ongoing essential. What do you have to say to all those sommeliers and students engaged in taking it to the next level of learning? What do you say to inspire them to go for that next rung on the ladder? What’s your insider advice?
EM: Have a little faith in yourself and if you really are genuinely interested in learning about wine then you will learn how to listen to the glass and you will find your wine voice. Take the feedback that people give you and really listen to it and just keep at it. Keep on believing that you are capable because I really do believe that everyone can become a great taster if they spend time to get to know the wines. It’s really all about understanding what’s in the glass….
KG: And opening 12 bottles at once…
EM: Well I always have said – never open a single bottle of wine again – always open two – it’s all about the comparison.
KG: You are a very busy teacher. You were my wine instructor and I can attest that you are a great teacher. Give us some numbers about how busy you are as a wine teacher. How do you go about spreading the wine gospel now?
EM: So through my role I teach our employees and some of our key customers across the country so I have taught in the Atlantic Provinces (all four of them actually) and in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. In any given year I might have 250 WSET Level 2’s go through and maybe 50 Level 3’s. It all depends on how many employees we have and all of the training that we do. But it’s not just WSET – we also do things on specific countries, specific regions and varieties – whatever it is they need. We don’t just feature wines from Arterra we also feature other wines from around the world. You know, we are proud of what we make and where they fit in the business with our customers and quite comfortable with how they stand up. In terms of travel numbers, I know because Air Canada tracks it for me. I do about 52 flights a year.
KG: So how do you expect being an MW will change things for you? Or will this change your life, at all?
EM: Well nothing changes immediately on the day that you get your letters - at least nothing that I am aware of so far. It’s really about the process I have gone through over the years and all the studying and the relationships you develop and really my thinking has really evolved and matured and that I speak up to understand. What does that mean in terms of opportunity? I don’t know. Well I feel like the world is my oyster now and the oyster shell keeps getting bigger and bigger!
KG: How do you plan to celebrate?
EM: So I didn’t know whether or not I was going to pass today or whether I was going to be told that I would have to re-write my research paper – which is the last phase. So I had invited just a few friends to come around and have some bubbles and some snacks at a wine cellar down the road that I sometimes have events at - because I didn’t know whether we would be celebrating or would be commiserating - either way I was going to be needing a drink! The champagne that I am going to be drinking a bit later tonight when my dad arrives, because he has been such a huge of support for me – opening bottles for me and helping me out – is a bottle of Billecart Salmon 2002 that I bought when I was in the Champagne region this past October with some close girlfriends. The significance of that wine is that many, many years ago I shared a bottle with my (late) mother over lunch – so it’s a winery that has some personal importance to me and a friend of mine had been working with them and managed to set up that visit last October. So, as I often say it all just comes together in the glass.
KG: Brilliant – congratulations and cheers to you, Elsa!
EM: Thank you so much.