Masters of Wine #9: Job de Swart MW
Updated: Apr 18
Welcome to My Wine Life, a blog dedicated to all things wine. Our focus is on bringing you the latest news, trends, and insights from some of the most respected experts in the wine industry. That's why we're thrilled to introduce you to Job, the third Dutchman to become a Master of Wine. As one of the highest standards of professional knowledge in the wine world, the MW qualification is a true mark of excellence. In our monthly Masters of Wine interview, we sit down with Job to learn about his journey to becoming an MW and his passion for wine. From his studies at the Dutch Wine Academy and internship at the Faculty of Viticulture and Oenology of UC Davis, to his work as a wine buyer and marketer for Les Généreux, Job has dedicated his life to the world of wine. He even co-founded Grape Compass, an innovative online system that forecasts fungal disease pressures in vineyards. Join us as we delve deeper into the world of wine with Job and discover what it takes to become a Master of Wine.
Job, thank you for joining us for this interview. Cees van Casteren MW has introduced you as a new guest. What is your relationship with Cees?
I am pleased with Cees van Casteren’s introduction considering the long time we have known each other. After my graduation from Maastricht University, I started working with Cees on several projects including the co-development of a short online wine course for a supermarket chain in The Netherlands. It was a great start of my career in which period I learned a tremendous deal from him. Up to this day, I value the confidence he already had in me at this young age.
How did your journey as a wine professional begin? Have you always dreamed of working in the wine business?
During my high school years in Venlo, I got a part-time job with HANOS wholesalers in the wine & spirits division on Saturdays. The department’s director got me introduced to wine, especially in the context of a culinary experience. This was a revelation to me at the time. I continued working in the wine trade on the side during my university years, but never considered it a serious career path. It was more a hobby than anything else.
In 2004, however, I got the opportunity to study economics abroad as part of a foreign exchange program. As soon as I saw the University of California, Davis on the list, I decided to pursue a ticket to study economics plus viticulture & enology as extra subjects in this world-renowned faculty. I ended up in California for 9 months and got many theory and practical wine classes done.
It was actually a small note on UC Davis professor Roger Boulton’s office door that got me thinking about a career in wine. I believe it was a quote from famous Baron Phillipe de Rothschild: “Excellent wine generates enthusiasm. And whatever you do with enthusiasm is generally successful.” In California, I decided not to become a business consultant for the likes of KPMG or Deloitte, but follow my passion and start a career that combines my education in International Business Administration with wine.
Graduated as the third Master of Wine of the Netherlands (and the youngest), a great achievement! What were your motivations to graduate as a Master of Wine?
After working with Cees in 2007, who was studying for MW at the time, I started with WSET Diploma Course in 2009 via WineWise. It was the excellent teachers actually who inspired me to pursue the Master of Wine program. I vividly remember the lively classes by Frank Smulders on Spain, Peppi Schuller on Austria, and Michael Palij on exam technique that made a huge impression on me. Their great expertise and ability to explain complex issues in a simple way were something I admired. After I passed for my Diploma in 2011, I knew there was much more to learn about wine and took on the challenge to study for the MW certification.
For your final exam thesis, you designed an app called Grape Compass. Can you explain what this research was about and what the role of the app is?
During my studies at UC Davis, I got introduced to academic models that can calculate fungal disease infection risks in vineyards - including powdery mildew, downy mildew, and botrytis - that impact grape yield and quality. Linked to reliable weather forecast information, these models can be used to optimize spray applications and protect grapes against fungal disease infections preventively. In 2004, however, I saw that they were in fact not very widely used due to challenges with location-specific weather forecasting.
Years later, in 2013, I had to think of a Research Paper topic for the Master of Wine program and decided that it had to do with sustainability. This has become another field of interest of mine. Via a friend, Leanne Reichard of IT company HydroLogic, I got noticed that weather forecasting had become more advanced over time and online software can be developed to use this information to provide grape growers with location-specific fungal disease risks. She also suggested applying for a government subsidy to see if we can actually design and develop this IT application. And guess what, we received two consecutive grants to research and trial the Grape Compass software in South Africa.
My Research Paper was an evaluation of the Grape Compass performance with seven Western Cape wineries over a two-year trial in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Over this period, we found that with a five-day forecast it was possible to save on the use of fungicides an average of 24.8% for powdery mildew and 46.7% for downy mildew. Besides a cost-saving on fungicides and vineyard management operations, this significant reduction directly benefits the environment and health conditions for workers and society as a whole. Currently, the Grape Compass app is used by several wineries in South Africa and we are running trails in Spain for future development.
What are the biggest lessons you learned while working at Château Giscours (Margaux) and De Toren (Stellenbosch?
Both winery internships have proven very valuable in terms of the people you meet, the work you do, and the life experience you get. At Château Giscours I was lucky to witness the exceptional Bordeaux 2005 harvest from first sight. It was hard physical work in the cellar: rinsing floors, dragging hoses, cleaning tanks, working the press, topping-up barrels, and, as you do, more cleaning. Despite the intense and long days, there was always time to relax and socialize to support a teamwork effort. A lifelong lesson. My best memories concern the Sunday lunches with the entire crew, where food, wine, and good stories were shared among an ancient fireplace on the estate.
DeToren’s set-up in Stellenbosch is much smaller than Giscours, which provides a different dynamic and role in the cellar. From the very start, I became partly responsible for grape processing and fermentation. I had to evaluate the progress being made on a daily basis, both in tanks and barrels. Besides a higher sense of responsibility by empowerment, I enjoyed the high level of detail that was paid to every process. In the end, this is how fine wine is being made in my opinion.
The study of Master of Wine can be long and lonely. What is your best tip for getting through each stage of your study?
Keep your eyes on the prize and enjoy the ride. As you may know, the pass rate of the MW exam is notoriously low, around 10%, and even lower for non-native speakers. This number may shock you, but it should not discourage future applicants. There are many reasons why students drop out. In my case, it took seven years to finish my studies, with multiple ups and downs. In this period, it was sometimes difficult to focus on what next steps to take.
To keep momentum, my girlfriend and I evaluated my study progress over dinner every half year. I passed the theory exam on my second attempt, but the practical part proved more challenging. After we decided that my fourth attempt at the tasting (of five in total) would be my last, she gave me a gift. One of her most wonderful and appropriate gifts ever.
What it was? Well, she bought me an empty frame. Not just any frame, it was a special Champagne-coloured frame. It was also an exact copy of the frames that hold my ‘Vinologist’ and Weinakademiker diplomas from former studies. My girlfriend positioned the new empty frame alongside it on the wall of my study room to supposedly hold my MW diploma in the future. In that way, every time I’d go and study, I would see the empty frame and be reminded that I was working towards this MW diploma. It worked: I passed the tasting exam in 2017!
Currently, you are working as a wine buyer and marketer for Les Généreux. Can you tell us about Les Généreux and what your role is within the company?
Les Généreux is an association of 40 independent wine shops in the Netherlands. This year we also started with two partners in Belgium (Flanders), which is an exciting new development. As a wine buyer, I am responsible for the wine portfolio with a focus on German-speaking wine countries and the Southern Hemisphere. The lean structure of the company implies that I am also highly involved in marketing, both off- and online, which makes it a diverse and dynamic role.
Which Master of Wine should I interview next?
There are so many talented and inspiring people among the group of Masters of Wine that makes it difficult to take a pick. Young MW’s that I studied with include Almudena Alberca from Spain, Róisin Curley from Ireland, Ido Lewinsohn from Israel, and Jonas Tofterup from Denmark. Every single one deserves a stage since they are already making waves in the wine world as a winemaker, but I am confident we will even hear much more from them in the future.
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