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Meet the judges: Q&A with Michaela Morris

Michaela Morris at DWWA judging week

Michaela Morris is an international wine writer, contributor, judge and educator. She is one of the first certified Italian wine experts through Vinitaly International Academy 2015, co-created the curriculum for VIA’s Italian Wine Maestro course and teaches about Italian wines across Canada and abroad.

Morris always had an interest in wine but, as she explained to Decanter, she never considered a career in the industry. That is – until a linguistics course at university led her to Burgundy.

Today, with over 20 years experience in the wine industry, Morris has worked as a fine wine importer in Canada, run Bordeaux en primeur campaigns for a private retailer and launched her own company, offering cellar management and wine tastings.

Even after all her achievements, she commented, ‘there is always something else to learn… It has become almost cliché to say that the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know, but it’s true.’

This year at Decanter World Wine Awards, Morris will join Stephen Brook as joint Regional Chair for Piedmont. Ahead of judging this May – and with entries closing soon on 15th March – we get to know more about Morris, including her proudest achievements, recommended regions to watch and advice for producers.

Tell us about yourself briefly. How did you get into the wine industry? 

I was studying linguistics at university and during an exchange year in Toulouse, I had to write a dissertation on anything to do with French culture or civilisation. I already had an interest in wine as I was working in fine dining restaurants to pay for my schooling, so I honed in on the tradition and terroir of Burgundy.

I spent a couple of weeks in the region doing research when it just happened to be their biennial wine show – Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne. I was at a tasting at Clos de Vougeot when I had that lightbulb moment. Until then, I had never considered that a career in wine even existed.

When I returned to Canada, I got a job at a private wine boutique and ended up running their Bordeaux Futures campaign. I then went on to work for a premium wine import company that specialized in Italian wine and started my own company offering private and public wine tastings as well as cellar management.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I can’t say there is a typical day for me, except when I have my head down and am writing a big report. On those days, I just try to remember to come up for air and go for a run, do yoga or garden.

Otherwise, on any given day, I might be touring a wine region, visiting producers at their estates, attending a wine trade show, trying upwards of 100 wines at a regional or new release tasting, judging a wine competition, moderating a seminar or leading a masterclass. While my homebase is Vancouver, I spend at least three months of the year in Italy as well as a few weeks in the UK where I have family.

What is your proudest achievement so far?

I’ve counted various achievements throughout my career – helping build a local import company to a national entity, running my own business for 13 years, passing the WSET Diploma, earning the top mark in Vinitaly International’s inaugural year.

I was also honestly thrilled to start writing for Decanter. I read the magazine religiously when I first got into the wine industry – and still do. Now I am focused on my next goal of writing my first book.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in the industry so far?

There is always something else to learn. Just for starters – in Italy. It could be an obscure grape, a little-known region, a new producer…

It has become almost cliché to say that the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know, but it’s true. Which means constantly staying engaged and being curious.

Which wine producing regions or grape varieties would you encourage people to explore?

There is so much to discover in Piedmont beyond the celebrated wines of Barolo and Barbaresco.

Langhe Nebbiolo can offer such great value for money, and off-the-beaten-track regions of Carema, Lessona, Bramaterra and Gattinara demonstrate different and thrilling expressions of this noble grape. Don’t overlook Valtellina in neighbouring Lombardy as well.

Back in Piedmont, I am also particularly captivated by the Pelaverga Piccolo, Grignolino and Timorasso grape varieties.

What do you find most inspiring in the wine world right now?

The young generation who is shaping the future. In a very traditional region like Piedmont, they recognise how lucky they are to inherit such a legacy and are very respectful about the work their parents did. They continue to move the region forward.

I am also inspired by all the innovation and adaptation with respect to climate change. It is easy to get discouraged but when I see the resilience and composure of producers facing challenges and focusing on solutions, it gives me hope.

What do you look forward to most as the new joint Regional Chair for Piedmont?

I am looking forward to working with my joint Regional Chair counterpart, Stephen Brook, who has a vast knowledge of the wines of Piedmont.

I am equally eager to judge with colleagues who share a similar passion for the region and its wines. And of course, I am excited for the cornucopia of grapes and styles. I am not sure there is any Italian region quite as varied as Piedmont – with still wines as well as traditional and tank method sparklers; dry versus sweet; aromatic to discreet; red, white and pink; light to full-bodied; youthful to complex and aged.

Do you have advice for DWWA entrants who don’t win a medal?

Don’t be discouraged! Take a look at wines in the same category that did win medals and, if possible, find a few to taste, preferably blind, to benchmark yours against these.

Also read the Co-Chairs’ comments about the wines that won Best in Show. There is a lot of insight here into what sets a wine apart.

What is an interesting fact that people might not know about wines from Piedmont?

While Nebbiolo gets all the glory, Barbera is Piedmont’s most planted grape. It’s also what the local producers love to drink. And after tasting Nebbiolo all day, it is the juicy and food friendly bottle of Barbera that is typically the first to be finished at the dinner table.

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The post Meet the judges: Q&A with Michaela Morris appeared first on Decanter.

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