Updated: Jul 26
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 weekly Masters of Wine interview. A New Zealand native, Ross is a Winemaker and Viticulturist based in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. He holds a Bachelor of Viticulture and Advanced Diploma in Wine Science from the Eastern Institute of Technology in Hawkes Bay, and has worked in winemaking, viticulture, and consulting roles across many wine regions of New Zealand and Canada. Ross currently works as a winemaker at Black Hills Estate Winery and as a Senior Winemaker within the Andrew Peller Limited family of wineries.
Ross, from New Zealand to Canada. How did you end up in Canada?
I first came to Canada in 2006, for a 3-month harvest position in Niagara. The combination of the exciting young wine industry, world-class Riesling and Chardonnay, and maple syrup convinced me to stay for a while. I’m still here - Okanagan Valley Syrah might have sealed the deal.
You hold a Bachelor of Viticulture and Advanced Diploma in Wine Science. How do you mix your superpowers to make excellent wine?
A wine's potential comes from the vineyard, so that’s where most of our attention and hard work is focused. The timing of harvest is very important to ensure we have the desired flavor profiles and balance to work with. The techniques we use in the cellar at Black Hills are very simple, but we work with high precision, especially during pressing and fermentation. From a cellar perspective, this is when the wines are made. After fermentation, it is all about patience, and letting the wine mature at its own pace to reach its potential.
At some point, you focused on organic & biodynamic viticulture and the potential implications of climate change in the valley. How do these issues relate to each other?
Careful farming has always been important to me, and I have been fortunate to work with some exceptional organic and biodynamic wineries. Aspects of organic and biodynamic farming feed very well into climate change activities such as managing soils to maximize their ability to store carbon and reducing outside material inputs. There are many other climate change mitigation and adaptation factors to consider outside of the organic and biodynamic frameworks, though. Careful and proactive viticulture today should consider a wide range of approaches such as sustainability, regenerative farming, measuring and monitoring carbon footprints, organics, and biodynamics.
Talking about fermentation, you are a sour bread junkie?
I am a big fan of wild fermentation in all its forms. Sourdough bread has certainly kept me busy in the last few years, and more recently I have branched out into sourdough pizza and croissants. I enjoy fermenting all sorts of foods and beverages - lacto-fermented vegetables, milk and water kefir, ginger beer, hot sauce, sauerkraut, kimchi, and cultured butter….
You passed your theory and practical exam on the first attempt. Please, tell us your secret.
My mentor (Eugene Mlynczyk MW) likened the Master of Wine exams to a marathon and told me it was important to peak at the time of the exams. I took this to heart and treated study like training. I made sure everything I was doing was gearing up for the main event.
The other important part was to enjoy the journey. It is much easier to get up ridiculously early and put extra effort into studying if you are passionate about the topic. I enjoyed every minute of being an MW student. I still use a lot of the study and learning habits I practiced during my time as an MW student.
Is it easier to taste wine blind when you are a winemaker? Did you have an advantage in taking the exam?
Being a winemaker certainly helps in some ways, such as tasting and communicating the structure of wines, and assessing the many aspects of a wine that contribute to its quality. The downside of being a Winemaker is you can become very focused on your own wines and region. I made a point to travel regularly and taste wines from all over the world to help overcome the ‘cellar palate’.
What role do you hold at Black Hills Estate Winery?
I am a winemaker at Black Hills. I also hold the position of Director of Winemaking, British Columbia, for our parent company - Andrew Peller Limited. I am lucky enough to be able to work with five outstanding wineries in the Okanagan Valley.
What’s your favorite rare wine?
Savennières. And Waitaki Valley Pinot Noir. And Madeira.
To which wine region are you planning to travel this year?
Central Otago, NZ. I need my Pinot Noir fix.
Which Master of Wine should I interview next?
Heidi Irene Hansen MW, or William Lowe MW
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