Masters of Wine #14: Anne McHale MW
Updated: Mar 16
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.
Anne is an award-winning Master of Wine, communicator, and consultant based in London. Born and brought up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, she then went on to read French and Classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge. After graduating with First Class Honours, Anne moved to London and joined the wine trade, working for businesses as diverse as Mistral Wines, New Zealand Wines, the John Lewis Partnership, and the prestigious Berry Bros. & Rudd, where for ten years she was an integral part of the Wine School team.
Whilst at Berry Bros. & Rudd Anne completed her WSET Diploma, winning the Vintners’ Cup & Scholarship for top UK student, and then went on to achieve the highly sought-after Master of Wine qualification, winning three awards in the process including the Bollinger tasting medal and the Wines of Austria prize for the top overall candidate.
Anne, thanks for joining our Masters of Wine series. From life in Belfast to a successful career in London. Why did you choose to work in the wine trade?
It kind of happened by accident! My parents had always been interested in wine and we drank wine at family dinners when I was growing up. My father had also founded the first ever student wine society at Queen’s University Belfast in 1969 and always spoke very fondly of his memories of that time. I kind of hero-worshipped my dad, so when I went to university in Cambridge the first society I joined was the wine society. I still didn’t think of it as a career, though – but when I graduated with a French degree I moved to London and ended up getting an admin job in a small ex-cellars agency specializing in Rhône wines. They put me through my first WSET qualification. I got the bug, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What was the biggest lesson you learned while working at Berry Bros & Rudd?
Ooh - so many lessons learned during my ten years at that venerable firm; it’s hard to choose. I traveled to many wine regions and was privileged enough to taste the world’s very best wines on a regular basis (I know – lucky me!). So I think I would say that the biggest lesson learned was how to appreciate truly fine wine. I gained a passion for exceptional wines, and the stories behind them, and that has never really left me.
You won a lot of prizes (what’s your secret? Haha), and the Vintners ‘ Cup & Scholarship for top UK students was one of them. What did it mean for you, to win this prize?
I have always scored highly in exams and that certainly came with certain advantages when it came to prizes. The Vintners’ Cup & Scholarship was not only prestigious but also came with a generous cheque which I used to visit the most far-flung wine country I could think of – New Zealand! I spent a fabulous two weeks there in 2008 and learned so much about that country and its wines. Winning that prize also gave me the confidence to continue with my studies by tackling the Master of Wine qualification.
On your website, you highlight the fact that out of 419 Masters of Wine, only 151 are women. Why do you think this number is so low, and how can we, women in wine, raise the bar?
It’s a simple reason, really; it’s just that wine (like many other industries) was always traditionally male-dominated because women hadn’t yet widely penetrated the world of work. For instance, the first Master of Wine was awarded the qualification in 1953 but the first woman didn’t become a Master of Wine until 1970. There just weren’t women in the industry. I’ve interviewed the first female Master of Wine, Sarah Morphew Stephen MW, by the way; you can watch the first one on my Instagram TV, and the second will be released soon so stay tuned – hers is a great story (she was told by one firm ‘there is no place for a woman in the wine trade’!). I’m not too concerned about future numbers of female MWs because the numbers of students are now 50/50 male/female, so the balance will naturally be redressed in the years to come.
What do you love about teaching wine?
At beginner level I love seeing people gain confidence in their own palates as they realize that they can tell the difference between wines, and can spot things like acidity, alcohol, and tannin levels. I also love watching them learn what language to use to describe the wines they like so that they can communicate better about wine and ultimately find and enjoy more interesting wines. For wine industry students who are studying at a higher level, I love demystifying complexities like French classification systems, or how to score high marks in the Diploma or MW exams!
You integrated a Diploma course signature program, called; ‘’Diplomatherapy’’. It sounds like we all need this… What is the program about?
This is a program specifically designed to help students progress through and succeed at the D3 module of the WSET Diploma in Wines. This challenging module is worth 50% of the overall qualification and it is honestly an enormous undertaking. The theory part in particular does not have a high pass rate, and I have made it my mission to change this by teaching students the signature system which I myself used to study for this exam and score high marks. The reason for the word ‘therapy’ is that there is a psychological component to success in exams at this level, so I offer tips on that too! I’ve had great feedback on the program and many success stories from people who tell me that they wouldn’t have passed without it. Anyone interested in finding out more should drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. D3 students can also register for my free online training, diving deep into the 2021 theory examiners' reports, find out more here
You love to work with friend and colleague Tim Atkin. How did you two meet?
Tim’s been a cornerstone of the wine industry in the UK for many years, so when I was a newbie in the trade I remember seeing him at events and occasionally saying hi. But he didn’t get to know who I was until we sang together in a wine trade band, Skin Côntact, formed by Richard Hemming MW in 2015 to raise money for Wine Relief. We had great fun at that gig and stayed in touch. Then during the Covid lockdowns, Tim suggested that we club together on Instagram to form ‘MW Mates’ and chat about wine together. Watch this space as it may come back at some point…
What topic in wine is underrated?
I think the industry underrates the value of telling their audiences the stories behind wines and producers, rather than communicating technical details about vineyards and winemaking which are of less interest to consumers than the more human aspect. My friend and colleague Lawrence Francis of Interpreting Wine did a great Instagram post on this recently. We in the industry do tend, in our geeky nerdy world, to get very caught up in what WE find fascinating without considering how it lands on the people who we want to purchase and drink the wine. There’s a lot of potential for growth here, I think :)
Are you working on exciting new projects at the moment?
I am! All hush hush for the moment though… ;-)
Which Master of Wine should I interview next?
Sarah Knowles MW – buyer at the Wine Society, a friend of mine, and an amazing woman!
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