By Jim Boyce
I recently talked to Huang Shan — the only mainland China citizen in the Master of Wine program — for Wine Enthusiast magazine. The story was published in the July / August issue of the Chinese edition. Read it in full here or see the image below. I thought it would be fun to also post the English draft. Here it is…
The past decade has seen China emerge as the world’s most promising wine market and even turn heads by winning accolades for its own vintages. Now many wonder when someone from China will attain the educational equivalent of a 100-point score and become a Master of Wine. Beijing-based Huang Shan, the sole mainland China citizen in the program, is vying for the honor.
Huang entered the MW program rather suddenly. Less than a week after finishing the prerequisite diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), she found herself eating duck in Beijing with California-based MW Liz Thach, who has passing through on her way to a conference.
“She told me to do the Master of Wine while I was still in study mode,” says Huang. That’s not even half of it. Huang found herself heading to the same conference in China’s promising wine region of Ningxia, where Thach kept up the campaign.
“Liz kept talking for three days and telling everyone else I was going to do the MW, so it became reality,” says Huang, with a laugh. “She gave me a lot of details about the program and about how the exams work. She was very supportive.”
If that wasn’t convincing enough, Jancis Robinson, arguably the world’s most famous MW, was in Ningxia at the time and Huang ended up translating for her.
Huang developed an early interest in wine via small samples from her father’s collection and a voracious appetite for reading that included vino references from Agatha Christie’s fictional detective Hercule Poirot.
Her first professional foray into the field came as a writer, particularly for magazine Wine in China. She went on to work in sales, marketing and education for China-based importer and distributor Jointek before opening her own shop, Pinot, which leans toward Burgundy in a market that heavily favors Bordeaux.
“People in China want Bordeaux but my personal favorite is Burgundy”, she says. She carries wine from eight countries, including Spain, New Zealand and Chile, with about half of the labels including Pinot Noir.
Not surprisingly, given her credentials, her most recent project is a wine school, called S Taster, where she teaches WSET classes.
But slowly and surely, the demands of the MW program are taking over her life and Huang says the self-study nature of the program creates a near unbearable sense of isolation at times.
She finds herself in the England study group but can only watch in envy as her colleagues get together. She struggles to find the right wines, and the right conditions for tasting them, in Beijing. And as someone raised speaking Mandarin, she says the most difficult thing is grasping the English needed to succeed – describing tannins, in a way acceptable to the testers, is alone a major challenge.
But onward she pushes: tasting, reading, accumulating notes and knowledge, and, more than occasionally, crying herself to sleep.
“One person told me, ‘You put your friends, family and social life in an envelope and kiss it goodbye’, and it really is true”, she says.
— Wine Enthusiast, July-August 2013, page 10