Fernando Mora and Andreas Kuback have joined the Institute of Masters of Wine, an organisation set up in the UK in 1953 to improve the standard of education in the British wine trade. They are among the 14 new members based in 5 different countries (USA, Norway, UK, Hong Kong and Spain) announced today. There are now 369 Masters of Wine living in 29 countries.
The theory and practical tasting exams of the MW are considered among the toughest worldwide with less than 10% passes a year. The last obstacle to be credited as a MW is a research paper which was successfully handled by the new Spain-based members. Fernando’s paper presented a zonification system for DO Campo de Borja in Aragón that could serve as a model for other Spanish regions, while Andreas Kubach studied long-term contracts with grape suppliers in Ribera del Duero.
In contrast with Pedro Ballesteros, the sole Spanish MW so far, who works as a staff member for the EU in Brussels and counts wine as his great passion, both Fernando Mora and Andreas Kubach work in the wine trade. German-born Kubach is an experienced consultant. After managing different wine companies, he set up Península alongside Sam Harrop MW and Castilian entrepreneur Jesús Cantarero. For his part, Fernando Mora manages Frontonio, his first winery in Aragón, and will be very timely launching his new project, Cuevas de Arom, in Zaragoza tonight. We will soon report about this exciting project in Campo de Borja.
Fernando Mora is one of the very few students, together with Pedro Ballesteros, to successfully pass all the tests on the first attempt. He describes his meteoric journey to become a Master of Wine as a “learning roller coaster”. Where lies the secret? “More than in my intelligence or the hours of study, it has been the people surrounding me who have allowed me to build up such a wealth of knowledge during a short period of time,” he reckons.
In a similar way, Andreas speaks about a fabulous learning journey. “I learnt much more than I initially though and I am a much better taster now,” he says. The most precious asset he achieved during this period is “an intimate understanding of the wines of the world and the ability to put each wine into a worldwide context.”
It has been a short but intense wine career for Fernando, born in Zaragoza in 1982. Two years ago, he successfully passed the MW entry exam without knowing what he was letting himself into –he was invited to join the MW programme before knowing he had passed the WSET Diploma. In November 2015 Fernando found himself attending a seminar in Austria together with other MW candidates. He was upset: “I was one of the worst students, my English was just average, people were capable of writing good tasting notes, but I wasn’t.”
Nevertheless, Fernando passed the first year assessment “by the skin of my teeth”, he believes. The second year, he studied like a maniac. “At the beginning I used to take pictures of my classmates’ tasting notes; after some time, I noticed things had changed when people asked me to take pictures of mine,” he recalls.
His passion for wine is relatively new. An engineer working in the wind industry, Mora did his first tasting at Rioja’s Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture in 2008, but his great epiphany took place in Blecua, one of Aragón’s state-of-the-art wineries, where he discovered the romantic side of wine. “I decided there and then to become a winemaker.”
The beginnings were quite rough and ready, almost hilarious. Fernando bought grapes from an Ainzón-based acquaintance from his MBA studies and used a kit bought on the Internet to make his first fermentation in his home’s bathtub. He used plain ice to control temperature and aged the wine in a small storage room. By 2010 he and two more partners were running a more serious project in Valdejalón, arguably one on the least well-known regions in Aragón; three years later, Mora took a bold step when he left his job bent on turning his hobby into his profession. After painstaking work, a good deal of stubbornness and learning from mistakes, Frontonio emerges now as one of the most refreshing wine ventures in Aragón both in terms of recovering old vines and driving Garnacha’s renaissance in the area.
Fate led Fernando back to Ainzón in Campo de Borja where he has his eye on some unique vineyards destined to the new Cuevas de Arom line; winemaking will be done at the local cooperative. If you are wondering about the meaning of Arom, it is simply Fernando’s surname read from right to left –and also how he named his first homemade wine.
Fernando had to combine the management of Frontonio with his MW studies and the kind of cross-disciplinary learning required by such a prestigious institution. As well as the books and tastings (Coravin enabled him to have 200 bottles accessed at home) he has learnt a great deal from different wine professionals whom he views as his mentors, notably viticulturalist Julio Prieto, his partner Mario and winemakers Jesús Navascués and his son Jorge, as well as William Long from Long Wines, where Fernando helps to make blends and is in charge of US, Ireland and UK sales. This work, plus his visits to flagship wine regions, has kept Mora away from home for as much as 35 weeks in a year. “The best thing about studying for the MW is that you learn so much,” he adds.
“It is also essential to overcome frustration and despair. I had ambitious study programs that I couldn’t meet; I have fallen asleep many times while studying.”
Despite all the setbacks, he worked with tenacity. With his wife Pilar studying simultaneously for her nursing exams (she ranked 63rd among more than 10,000 candidates), the atmosphere at home was almost perfect. “The key to everything is to have someone who understands you,” he concludes.
Fernando also prepared for the exhausting four-day exams, which include three blind tastings and five theory papers, with Danish MW candidate Jonas Tofterup. They simulated the assessments several times to test their physical strength, booked accommodation beforehand just 300m from the examination venue, chose the clothes they would wear on the day and cleared their minds hanging out a bit and having a couple of beers at the end of each day. Most importantly, they agreed that they would not talk about their answers to avoid feeling insecure during the process. “I felt happy and relaxed during the whole week”, Fernando recalls. “I had never experienced such a feeling in previous exams.”
Of German descent, Andreas’s connection to his family’s country of origin was limited to his birth given that his parents lived in Paris. Six years later, they moved to Brazil and in 1984 the family settled down in Spain. Andreas spent his adolescence in Valencia but graduated from ICADE business school in Madrid and considers himself an administrator above all.
Wine was regularly drunk at home, but he joined the world of wine with first job. As assistant director of the winery that Swiss group Schenk had in Spain, he was in charge of sales, marketing and operations, his areas of expertise. The group wanted to move from bulk to bottled wine, so his first step was to sell the wines to large distribution chains coming into contact with many international buyers who were Masters of Wine. Kubach soon discovered that “they tasted much better than our own winemaker.”
When he left the company six years later to join Arco (“the most dynamic, financial-driven company in Spain at the time”), sales had surged from 1m to 8m bottles. Despite his brief time at Arco, Andreas found inspiration to set up Vinista, a consultancy firm specialized in wine industry management. He met Carlos Falcó, one of the most active Spanish producers in the 1990s, who would eventually become his main client –in fact, Kubach managed the Falcó winery for five years. “We developed a family winery concept and pushed up production to reach a château size making around 350,000-400,000 bottles,” says Andreas.
By the time he joined the MW programme in 2011, he had discovered than wine consultancy was particularly hard in Spain. “Nobody wanted to hear the bad news.” Neither the producers who were doing a bad job, nor those banks which, as a result of the financial recession, had become owners of wineries and discovered how little they were worth. His friend Sam Harrop MW was experiencing similar frustrations with his winemaking consultancy so the idea of Península came up naturally over dinner with Castilian entrepreneur Jesús Cantarero, who needed dramatic changes in Fontana, the family winery in Cuenca.
For three years now Península has been in charge of management and sales for Fontana. Large efforts have gone to resize the company and redesign the wine range based on the potential of over 600 Ha of vineyards and the business seems now ready to undertake new projects in other Spanish wine regions.
But it’s not only about business; there’s a philosophy behind: “Even the cheapest wine must have a core of authenticity; as prices rise, we must go beyond organoleptic accuracy and offer culture and aesthetic pleasure.”
Looking back 20 years, Kubach has realised that he still works with almost the same people, many of whom –like him from this very moment– carry the two capital letters behind their names. He focused his MW studies on filling his wine knowledge gaps: “I was familiar with most of the material covering wine business and contemporary issues, so I focused on viticulture and winemaking. In the end it proved really useful because so many things started to make sense.”
He passed the theory papers on the first attempt but had to face the tastings assessments up to three times. To prepare for this, Andreas visited Australia and attended many tastings in London. It wasn’t an easy process: “Once you acquire the knowledge, you have to learn how to answer questions; guessing the wine in front of you is not enough; you have to give clear arguments about what you find in the glass.”
Despite being fluent in five languages, Kubach thinks non-native English speakers are at a disadvantage. “I underestimated time pressures and accumulated physical fatigue. Luck also counts, especially if you have to taste familiar wines or you have a good day,” he considers. The previous week to the tasting paper, Andreas took time off to make sure he was completely relaxed –the date was September 2015 and he succeeded.
Now he enjoys the “transversal knowledge” that sets MWs apart. Kubach encourages other professionals to take the challenge: “Spanish producers aren’t good at showcasing their wines in a worldwide context,” he reckons.