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Masters of Wine #16: Annette Lacey MW

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

At My Wine Life, we believe that knowledge is power, and that's why we're excited to introduce you to our weekly Masters of Wine interview series. Each week, we sit down with a different Master of Wine to discuss their background, experiences, and insights into the world of wine. Our featured expert this week is Annette, a seasoned professional with extensive experience in restaurant management and sommelier roles. With a career spanning international hotel groups and award-winning fine dining restaurants, Annette brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table.

Annette Lacey MW
Annette Lacey MW: Source: Steven Woodburn

Dear Annette, thank you for joining! I quote you:

“The process of becoming an MW has been a challenging and also exciting personal and professional journey. It still feels surreal. This has been a 10-year process so to see that all of that hard work and perseverance finally pay off is incredibly rewarding.”

10 years of hard work. If you knew up front, what your challenges would be before starting the MW journey. Would you have started your journey as a MW? Or would it motivate you to work even harder and fulfill your dream?

I suppose if someone tells you it will be 10 years of study you might baulk at this, but when you are in the process it doesn’t feel like 10 years. You are busy studying, tasting and working being challenged, and pushing yourself to the limit. There is the juggle of family, work, and study but there is always a juggle in life. I feel like I have learned so much, met some wonderful people along the way, and found out a lot about myself. Every person has a different MW journey and once you are in the program it is hard to let go until you have exhausted every attempt, a motivator in itself. It is a challenging, demanding, emotional, satisfying, and extremely rewarding process that I feel privileged to have been part of, and even more thrilled that I succeeded. To sum up your question I do not regret a minute.

What was the reason why you started as a sommelier in the hospitality business?

I originally was a restaurant manager focusing on the food and service side of the hospitality business, but one day I was invited to join a tasting of NV Krug Grande Cuvee. The presenter was discussing the layers of complexity in the Champagne, and I actually could smell and taste what they were talking about. When someone takes the time to open your eyes to wine and all its complex nuances, it is a revelation. I was pretty much hooked from then and changed my career direction from restaurant manager to sommelier. I have never looked back!

Name your top 3 mentors who supported you in the last 10 years. And tell us how they supported you.

Full disclosure – 3 is not enough as I have had so many MW mentors over the last 10 years on my MW journey, not to mention all the emotional support from my family and friends.

Phil Reedman MW – a mentor to me in the program offering kindness, his time, and advice. He never gave up on me.

Angus Hughson – was a great friend on the program, reading essays and providing sage advice on exam pressure and the emotional preparation needed for the exam, and the stress this can bring.

Eugene Mlynczyk MW – was my Research Paper mentor who was patient, and methodical and gave so much encouragement through the emotional and academically demanding third part of the MW process.

Annette Lacey MW
Source: Annette Lacey MW

You work for Solotel, as a group beverage manager, it’s important to know who you are serving. How do you define a specific target group when a business enters your portfolio?

In any hospitality group, you need to know who you are serving – we have many venues so our customer base is diverse therefore, the beverage offer must be as diverse and ever-changing, to suit the customer and community. We encourage collaboration between myself and the beverage leader in the venues so that the right beverage choices are made for the venue. This is always at front of mind for all our beverage offers in all our venues. This means there is no strict template for each venue, we are more fluid with our selections making us more agile to change with our customer’s needs, and trends whilst constantly seeking out the best wines we can find.

To become a highly trained Master of Wine, how many wines a day would you need to taste to improve your tasting skills?

The key is to try wine(s) every day in the lead-up to the exam, but it is not the number of wines you taste but more the quality of your tasting dissection and the clarity of your argument. To improve your tasting skills, you need to approach your end goal (passing the exam) with discipline. The exam process is challenging so you need to practise with blind wines and dry tasting notes to ensure you do not forget the key parts of your answer, consolidated with your theory knowledge. It is always about dissecting what is in the glass using the evidence to structure your argument as opposed to writing what you think it is. There is a difference.

Annette Lacey MW
Annette Lacey MW: Source: Steven Woodburn

What is, in your opinion, the definition of fine dining?

It is a heightened style of dining where all your senses are considered and encompassed in the dining experience. The food, wine, décor, service, aroma, and music all play an important part in the food experience. The interaction and execution of all these factors create the perfect dining package where each part is needed for customer enjoyment and satisfaction.

You won the 2014 Vin de Champagne Award. Can we say you’re a Champagne expert?

Expert is a word I probably wouldn’t use, as there is always something more to learn. I would say a knowledgeable person who is passionate about Champagne and how Champagne makes you feel and think about its myriad of subtleties. The history of the region and the tradition of the style and production is fascinating as it maneuvers through tradition to modern-day interpretations. Visiting the region, meeting the wonderful Champenois and their pride in their wines, and showing the patience to lay Champagne down, sometimes for decades is a fine art. I also enjoy finding out about the upcoming new generation of producers pushing boundaries of style, production method, and expression of site. This provides a lovely contrast to the classic houses that offer the customer trust in their brand combined with decades of history providing them intimate knowledge of the villages, the assemblage process, and the opportunity to create new styles.

Annette Lacey MW
Annette Lacey MW: Source: Steven Woodburn

Which wine is still on your bucket list?

There are so many wines I have still yet to try – for many it is an exceptional vintage from a producer I have tried or new/old release of limited production such as the Krug Clos du Ambonnay or wines that are well outside my budget such as Burgundy from Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Add to that 1985 Chateau Rayas CNDP Rouge, single vineyard Huet Moelleux with age, or a German Auslese Goldkapsel. I have so many wines I haven’t mentioned that are also on my very long list, including wines I have already tried that I would love to try again as they will have evolved and changed.

Are you working on exciting new project(s)?

I am always trying to improve myself now that my studying time is freed up! I have tried to do some articles writing for publications, which I find enjoyable and can pose a challenge, plus it keeps you up to date on topic matter. Work wise there are always new projects on, focusing on keeping my team engaged in new and interesting wine and beverage and supporting the team in their own study journeys. I am also always open to new projects that come my way.

Which Master of Wine should I interview next?

Phil Reedman MW (Australia/UK) or Caroline Hermann MW (USA) are both great MW’s that I know well and have their own MW story to tell.


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