Masters of Wine #11: Demetri Walters MW

Updated: Jul 11

Master of Wine (MW) is a qualification (not an academic degree) issued by The Institute of Masters of Wine in the United Kingdom. The MW qualification is generally regarded in the wine industry as one of the highest standards of professional knowledge. Join us to meet each Master of Wine in our monthly Masters of Wine interview. Demetri Walters MW is an independent wine consultant, wine educator, and presenter, who formerly held both retail and trade-orientated positions for almost 20 years with the prestigious Berry Bros. & Rudd. He possesses many years of experience selling wine, providing product training, running wine schools, as well as hosting professional, corporate & private wine tasting events for groups of all sizes, all over the world, hosts wine shows and documentaries on television, and is a seasoned international wine judge. Demetri was made a Master of Wine in 2013, his thesis for which brought him back to his formative interest in Cypriot wine. He is a consultant voice for numerous wine regions, particularly those of the Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, and is a regular speaker on sweet and fortified wines.


Source: Demetri Walters MW

Demetri, your say wine should be amusing, accessible, and entertaining. Care to explain?


What would you rather listen to, an arid presentation or an engaging one? Wine is fascinating. Talking about it ought, in my opinion, to reflect the wonder of the whole story in a fun and engaging way. It’s much easier to hold people’s attention when they feel entertained. Of course, the content has to be worthy of their time. Either way, I talk about wine in the only way I know how. I guess a have a developed sense of the absurd!


Did you always know that you wanted to work in the wine trade? How did your wine journey start?

No, not at all. I did other things before, and I think that adds to the weave of my experience. My grandfather in Cyprus had vineyards and they always fascinated me. I like making things grow, and being involved with vine and wine is an extension of that great love of nature. Vineyards are the natural world partially harnessed. Wine is an expression of that age-old and romantic relationship between mankind and the world about us. I just do what I do. Life is living me and I seem compelled to be in the wine trade. I like to talk about wine. It’s far more interesting to me than all the other pursuits I followed in my younger days.


You graduated in 2013 as a Master of Wine. The theme of your thesis was Cypriot wine. Can you tell us more about your thesis and why it’s so important to highlight this theme?

My mother is a Cypriot and we have a lovely family house there. I wanted to write a thesis that was both useful to Cyprus, not just in the reading of it but in the engagement and conversation with various winemakers and other resident wine professionals, and helpful to me in future years. So I wrote a paper on the native red grapes of the island and their potential to be exported.


Cyprus, as with many other Eastern Mediterranean countries in recent centuries, had suffered from poor wine quality. The reasons are manifold and complex. I wanted to be part of a conversation to lift the island out of its post-Ottoman malaise. That desire is coming true, and the wines of Cyprus have never been better or more exciting. The indigenous grapes are expressing themselves as never before and, indeed, their ranks are swelling as more and more obscure varieties walk out of the shadows. These provide a new twist on an ancient wine story and one that possesses a wonderful authenticity.


You provide wine trade training, sales must be a big component of this training. How do you combine both professions?

In my former incarnation as a trade and on-trade educator, I helped my customers understand the wines that we supplied them. This way they sold more wine, we continued to populate their lists and developed mutually loyal and beneficial relationships.


Nowadays part of what I do is training (wine) trade and on-trade people. The more they know, the better they perform. This keeps all the related constituents healthy. Another part of what I do is consult for Oldenburg vineyards, a flourishing South African wine business. Much of this is supporting their two agency channels in the UK, mostly by customer training but also via B2C events for those customers’ customers.

Source: Demetri Walters MW

Which regions in the Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe are climbing the quality ladder?


I think they all are. Romania and Bulgaria are definitely going from strength to strength. (I wouldn’t call Hungary Eastern Europe, though it too is turning a quality and customer awareness corner.) I lived in Romania as a teenager and have always been enthusiastic about their many indigenous varieties. It is these ‘natives’ that, when really expressed properly, offer something different, something unique to the country and region, and that enable the person selling or pouring the wine to tell a truly engaging story.


Greece and Cyprus, though different in size and development of their production and trade, share a Hellenic culture. This is obviously very close to my heart. Their characterful autochthonous varieties possessing ancient genetic material, tell a wonderful tale (the story is so often key) and make fabulous wines of tremendous personality.


But it isn’t all about the countries above. Turkey, Israel, and Lebanon are each benefitting from a renaissance in the way their own populations and export customers view their wines. They desire and deserve our attention, as they make wine in an environment that is challenging to say the least.


You are a big fan of fortified wines. Can you tell us why?

Ha ha. What’s not to like? Fortified wines are so often both vivid and hugely complex. At the top of the tree, they offer unparalleled complexity, maturity, and drinking pleasure. There’s something for everyone with fortified wines. Most of all they can be potent and elegant at the same time. Everything we love about wine can be found in this genre, and they’re unbelievably good value for money.


Source: Demetri Walters MW

You judge for parties like DWWA and the London Wine Competition. What do you love about judging wine?


It’s a love-hate relationship actually. I don’t like giving absolute scores to wines. Fine wine (define that how you will) isn’t the same on successive days and neither is my palate. However, when we judge with others, the whole process becomes more cooperative and meaningful. Effective judging helps wines shine and also lends aid to necessary improvements.


What is your relationship with Madeira region?

I simply adore mature Madeira, whether as a blend or as a colheita/frasquiera. The magical combination of unique soils, tradition, oxygen, and time… An ancient Madeira offers a taste of the past. When I sip a Madeira that might be two centuries old, I reflect on what was happening when the grapes were harvested. It’s like a slice of history. I’m fortunate enough to be a member of The Madeira Club and we get together twice a year to taste eight wines of a specific grape and in various genres, back, back, back in time. By the way, I really love Port too…and sherry…and so it goes!


What favorite topics do you love to cover on 67 Pall Mall TV?

I like to get people to talk about themselves. I used to be a headhunter and, as well as being one of the most talkative people in a room, I’m also sufficiently interested in others to want to know their stories. Interviewing winemakers and other wine industry and trade professionals is a real privilege. Getting others to open up is a great pleasure for me. The subject is almost immaterial as I enjoy it all. If I had to choose my favorite topics then I’d probably be quite vague: family businesses, viticulture in challenging natural circumstances, obscure and ancient grape varieties, and funky new ventures. How’s that?


Which Master of Wine should I interview next?


I would never give a name, though how about someone much older than your usual interviewee, someone who could tell stories of the past? Or someone from or with the expertise in an older region that’s experiencing a wine revolution?


 

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