I asked Ashley Vaughters, Colorado’s first and only Master of Wine, to grab a bottle off the shelf at Proper Pour, The Source’s wine store in Denver. I was a little surprised when she reached for one on the cheap shelf! Once we started chatting it quickly became clear why “the most meaningful part of the process is making [wine] accessible to people.”
“I was in the Master of Wine program for three years,” Vaughters says.
She jokes her love for wine started at 16, but her career began in 2009.
The Master of Wine ranking is one of the most prestigious credentials in the wine world. Vaughters likens the three-stage process applicants must complete, which is through the U.K. based Institute of Masters of Wine, to a PhD program.
Stage 1 culminates in a paper, derived from a blind tasting of 12 wines, and two theory essays.
Once that’s done, participants move on to the second stage, with a two-part examination. The theory portion consists of five papers on: viticulture, vinification and pre-bottling procedures, the handling of wine, the business of wine, and contemporary issues. According to the Institute the practical part of the exam is “three 12-wine blind tastings, in which wines must be assessed for variety, origin, winemaking, quality and style.”
The third and final stage is a 6,000- to 10,000-word research paper.
“I spent the last year researching Napa Cabernet in the 1960s and ‘70s,” says Vaughters. Sounds like a pretty niche topic, but it’s perfect for her. She works for Old World Wine here in Denver, as well as running Mistral Wine where she works to help teach others about wine.
“I didn’t go into it for a bunch of doors to suddenly open when I was done,” says Ashley about completing the Master of Wine program. “I really set out to better myself, to work really hard at something.” The most powerful thing wine can do, in the opinion of Colorado’s foremost authority on the beverage, is “to connect people over rotten grapes,” she says with a laugh, “in a good way.”
There are only 369 Masters of Wine worldwide, but Vaughters says anyone can do this, with practice.
"Just go for it," she says.
And for those wondering, Vaughters says she doesn't drink too much on the job. Most of the work requires a nose.
Hear more about what Vaughters does in the video above.