The Institute of Masters of Wine, the most authoritative and oldest organization dedicated to the knowledge and business of wine, welcomes the newest Italian Master of Wine: Andrea Lonardi. Stevie Kim interviewed him to capture his thoughts in the moment and share them with the Italian Wine Podcast audience.
The Institute of Masters of Wine is revered as the home of exceptional global wine expertise. What began 70 years ago as the UK wine trade exam is now an internationally recognized title, held by a worldwide family of Masters of Wine. Prior to today there were 412 MWs in 31 countries across the globe, with each one amking their own individual contribution to the wine industry. Becoming an MW means joining a unique and venerated wine community, one that offers enriching personal and professional opportunities, as well as lifelong friendships.
SK: Andrea, huge congratulations on your achievement! How are you feeling since the announcement? Who is the first person you called when you were notified that you’ve been awarded the MW title?
AL: I feel… overwhelmed! I’m just filled with incredible emotion and I can barely take it all in. The MW was a very tough journey but, today, all the sacrifices I made are now worth it. The first call I made had to be to “Fine Tuning”: it’s the chat I’ve had with Gabriele Gorelli and Pietro Russo since 2015. It’s the chat of the “Three Musketeers,” as you have always called us, Stevie.
SK: Ok, let’s explain the “Three Musketeers” issue to our listeners. This is what I called the MW study group formed by you (Andrea Lonardi), Gabriele Gorelli (MW since 2021) and Pietro Russo. Even though you all started the journey independently, your paths not only crossed, but merged in a really unique way. In short, you became a team: what did this team mean to you?
AL: The team, the partnership, was fundamentally important, it was essential both professionally and personally. Being a team has made it possible to go forward where many others have failed. Obviously, joining forces allowed us to share our knowledge, but the advantage of working in a group went beyond this: it allowsedus to share our skills, but also to share our individual perspectives, attitudes and characters. People who study to become an MW on their own have to handle the entire process alone. When they have moments of distraction or difficulty they don’t have anyone to lean on and guide them. In a well-structured team like ours, it was possible to create a positive dynamic where each member managed to lead the others at various important moments. Individually, Gabriele, Pietro and I possessed some essential tools to get to the end of the MW path, but together we had everything we needed. Not only that: by putting our knowledge and our personalities together, we created a system, a structure, an organism bound by our relationships and reciprocal influences. It would have been very difficult to develop such a great system if we had each worked on our own.
SK: For people who don’t know exactly how the MW path works, can you briefly spell out how much time and resources you have dedicated to becoming an MW?
AL: For me it all started in March 2014, when I took the admission test – which consists of the evaluation by the Commission of a candidate’s personal qualifications, then a blind tasting of four wines and writing two essays. That was 9 years ago and I have finally finished now, in August 2023. The pandemic complicated things of course, but the path is very demanding no matter what and requires several years of time investment. The amount of knowledge to acquire is enormous, and the fact that I am not a native English speaker was an extra complication for me. During the three stages of the programme, attendance at two residential seminars of five days each, as well as participation in a few days of lessons is required. The rest of the study process is 100% the student’s responsibility: finding the study material, comparing notes with MWs and other students, joining training activities and generally preparing and learning on your own. My study group and I also went on “retreat” periods where we could study full-time. Last but not least, the MW journey is expensive. Beyond the enrollment fees for the various stages and exams, each phase of the study program also involves a series of additional expenses to be budgeted for – for example – travel, accommodation, the purchase of wines for tasting and study, participation in bootcamps, interviews with MWs. Throughout the process there is the added burden that every trip and every moment dedicated to studying is, at least at that moment, a loss of income.
SK: The last step of your journey to becoming MW was passing Stage 3 and writing a Research Paper, which was essentially your final thesis. Tell us a little about this process.
AL: Once you have passed the practical exam and the theoretical exam, you are admitted to Stage 3, this is the phase where you concentrate exclusively on the third and final part of the exam, which is the Research Paper (RP). It is a short research thesis that the student must write independently and then submit to the Commission in one of the two annual sessions, June or December. My RP is titled: “Pergola and VSP in Valpolicella: How Labor Demand and Current Challeges Impact Training System Choices”. On the surface, itappears to be a technical piece dedicated to Valpolicella but, in fact, it represents a practical example of a layered, multidisciplinary approach for the region. Valpolicella is facing a stylistic and managerial change that imposes a different vision and different commercial positioning choices from those of the past. To confront these challenges, first of all it is necessary to have authority and recognition in the international community, which is the aim of this work. The work is, of course, for and of the Valpolicella denomination, but it actually also provides ideas for the entire wine world. The comparison between forms of farming, such as VSP and Pergola, will become an increasingly relevant theme, considering the effects of climate change and the shortage of manpower. Bringing together climatic, qualitative, economic, social and legislative issues allowed me to demonstrate that objective results can be obtained by using a rigorous method. The MW provided me with the opportunity to experiment and test myself and bring recognition to a territory I believe in – Valpolicella – which is a territory I see as a starting point for necessary change.
SK: Why did you choose this kind of approach for your Research Paper?
AL: Because wine is not just about twirling a glass, tasting, guessing its origin and posting it all on social media. Wine is also about considering the stylistic, economic, social and productive future. Wine is a dialogue with winegrowers, salespeople and entrepreneurs who want to transform an idea into potential success. Wine is the ability to listen not only to what is in the glass, but also to what a territory can produce or what the consumer or the markets can ask for. So I wanted to test myself by creating a research project where I could combine these different approaches.
SK: After all these sacrifices and all these years, do you still want to study?
AL: Absolutely. On the one hand, the more you study, the more you realize how many aspects there are to explore. On the other hand, the MW path is an experience that transforms you both as a professional and as a person, and you discover that an MW is basically an eternal student. Being an MW doesn’t mean holding a static trophy. On the contrary, it carries the responsibility of bringing continuous value to the wine community and remaining engaged and up to date on new research and the related subsequent developments. Beyond all of that, as an MW, I will always try to test everything I have learned and continue to learn through practice and in my daily work.
SK: Speaking of your future plans, what kind of MW are you and will you be?
AL: Most MWs are communicators. Secondly we find the educators, then there are some oenologists and other technical figures and, finally, the managers. Well, I belong to the latter category. I am inspired by wine business professionals such as David Gleave of Liberty Wines and some more recent ones such as Justin Knock, Christophe Heynen, and Nick Bielak: they are MWs who not only constantly have a glass in hand, but who are also and above all involved in development, planning, organizing and they have vision. I think this is the future of the MW role: wine, and especially Italian wines, need strategy and planning, patterns, logic and discipline, to cultivate their own identity and prestige. The MW program provides the opportunity to study models and develop hard and soft skills that allow you to work on this. It provides a network of information and operational contacts all over the world and in all segments of the wine industry. These are the reasons why I chose it and the aspects I focused on. I had the immense good fortune of being able to directly apply what I saw and learned in the MW path to practical and concrete cases. In recent years, thanks to the support of the top management of Angelini Wines & Estates, I have been able to develop a series of successful, innovative projects to which I am enormously committed and where I have been able to use the courage and vision I gained from the passion and stimulus generated bythe MW program. The project to relaunch Bertani through the concept of style, the slopes of Montalcino (the Vigne del Brunello), the focus on Sangiovese from three different denominations (Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile), The Library project, the development business in Val di Suga, contacts with top players in the world of fine wines (such as. Wilson Daniels in the USA) – all of these were my test fields. Now, with the title of MW, I would like to give even greater focus, stylistic planning, managerial organization and commercial orientation to the fine wines project of Angelini Wines & Estates.
SK: We talked about the fact that the MW path is also a path of personal growth: how has it changed you?
AL: For example, the MW path taught me discipline and strategy. Of the “Three Musketeers,”, I was the first one to pass the theory exam. This was due to the fact that I understood early on that a methodical and rigorous approach to preparation was needed. It is a stage that requires writing, over five days, 13 essays on topics ranging from viticulture, winemaking, quality control, marketing and contemporary topics. However, I got stuck in the tasting part, apparently the one I should have overcome first, given my background. I believe it was my constant research outside the box that hindered me in the tasting segment of the exam. Today, thanks to all these challenges and very hard training, I have acquired a natural flexibility and ability to read when the methodological component, discipline and rigor are needed, versus when the creative component can be brought into play. This understanding is what allows one to excel and to become a pioneer and successful as an individual.
SK: So now that you’ve joined the MW Community: how would you describe it?
AL: The MW Community is an elite environment, but at the same time a huge driving force of energy and stimuli. It’s a sort of club that follows the dynamics of critical friends, i.e. people who tell you extremely harsh truths – which is why many drop out. However, these critiques serve to identify areas for improvement. It is a club in which a horizontal system is created where the leaders do not proclaim themselves, but are recognized by the group for their authority. For this reason it is not the single person but the working group that emerges. As I explained before, Gabriele, Pietro and I are a good example of this.
SK: Finally, who would you like to give a special thanks to?
AL: To my wife Alberta and my daughters Maria and Margherita: never, not even for a second, did they doubt that this recognition would come. This sort of unflagging support is crucial for self-confidence. To Gabriele Gorelli and Pietro Russo, my two travel companions: our complementary skills and personalities must be an example of team building and of the fact that, as a group, what is impossible individually can be overcome. To the top management of Angelini Wines & Estates and to my work group for allowing me to pursue this dream. To Andrea Cipriani, a coaching professional with whom I have been collaborating for three years. Finally, to MWs Yiannis Karakasis, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal and Chistophe Heynen for their mentorship and support.
Andrea Lonardi was born in Valpolicella, graduated in Agriculture from the University of Bologna and has a Masters in Management Control from the Grande École of Montpellier. After training internships in Languedoc and Sonoma, Lonardi began his career in the top wine division of the Italian Wine Group (GIV), working in Marketing & Sales. In 2005 he led the reorganization project for the wine-growing part of the group. He focused on the most important Italian wine territories, overseeing more than 1,000 hectares of vineyards and 13 estates from the Alps to Sicily, in his role as group Viticultural Coordinator. Lonardi also oversaw the oenological aspect of several projects, beginning in 2008. He became the Chief Operating Officer of Bertani Domains in 2012. Known today as Angelini Wines & Estates (AW&E), Lonardi manages production reorganization for the company, development of the group concept, construction of the product portfolio and business development. He continues in research, production and distribution development in the world of fine wines at AW &E. Lonardi is vice president of the Consorzio Tutela Vini della Valpolicella, a member of the board of Unione Italiana Vini and has played a decisive role in the development of the “Le Pievi” project in Vino Nobile.
This interview is available in audio format as well!