Getting to know David Forer, consultant and Master of Wine
Currently considered one of the highest recognitions in the world of wine, very few achieve the title of Master of Wine. However, today’s interviewee, David Forer, doesn’t boast about it. Having worn this badge for more than 10 years, he would still say he never stops learning. Born in England, educated in Canada and now based in Barcelona, he is a restless soul who not only advises a number of emerging wine and spirits companies, but is also co-owner of a 10-hectare vineyard in Priorat where he makes wines from the region’s native grape varieties. Undoubtedly, he is an expert we can learn a lot from...
- It would be fair to say you weren’t born with a love for wine. How and when did this passion emerge? What does wine mean to you?
Wine for me was always about sharing an experience over a good meal. When I was 17 years old, my older brother came home from University for a visit. We went out for lunch with him, and being the “big-shot” he’s always been, he ordered a bottle of wine for lunch. It was a simple French bistro in Toronto, and I’m sure the wine was something very simple, likely a Mouton Cadet blanc from Bordeaux. But I grew up without wine at the table at home. If anything there was beer on most tables in Canada. But as soon as we all started drinking this wine at the Bistro, the mood changed. We were smiling more, the conversation got more open, and that memory has stuck with me. From that point, I knew that wine was special – that it brings people together, and brings joy.
- Before dedicating yourself to the world of wine, you spent 20 years working in the pharmaceutical industry as a statistician for clinical trials. What made you decide to change your career?
I’ve always loved wine, collecting it, learning about it, obsessing about it - since I was about 21 years old. But I ended up in a career I was good at, but didn’t love. I wanted out. I asked my friend Sara Floyd, a Master Sommelier, how I switch to the wine business. She told me that I couldn’t become an MS (Master Sommelier) because I didn’t have on-premise experience and suggested that instead I should pursue my MW (Master of Wine). I didn’t even know what it was, but said sure, I’ll do it! So much energetic naivete. From that point, to get through WSET and MW it took me 10 years!
- This is when you decided to teach yourself as much as you could and acquire all the knowledge needed for the Master of Wine tests. Bearing in mind that only one in ten candidates pass the exams, which skills do you think you need to be awarded this sought after qualification? Which do you think is the most difficult test?
Of the three parts, Theory, Tasting, and Research Paper, the one that took me the longest was Tasting.The MW tasting exam is not just about Burgundy and Bordeaux and Champagne – I like to say, it’s called the Master of Wine exam, not the Master of Fine Wine exam! So you have to know about pretty much every wine style and category in the world. In fact, it’s quite common to have an exam that includes a vintage Champagne and a White Zinfandel from California. So it took me a long time to get my tasting skills and knowledge up to the point where I could convince the examiners I had mastered all the styles of wines of the world.
What skill do you need most to get the MW? Perseverance! There are so many defeats and the work is so hard, you need to be able to stick with it. And what’s really important personally for me is that I didn’t lose my love for wine along the way. The MW journey is so intense that many people lose sight of the truth which is that wine is about pleasure and joy, and we need to keep focused on that.
- Although the road might be hard, once you have the coveted MW letters, the effort really pays off. What has being a Master of Wine brought to your professional and personal life?
From a professional perspective, the MW has presented me with the opportunity to have doors open, but they only open once! What I mean is that people will pay attention to me because I have the MW, but only briefly. The door only opens once because of those initials. Then I have to deliver. I have to convince them that I really know what I’m talking about. Otherwise the door would close! Personally it’s been fantastic. I’ve gotten to know so many amazing MWs around the world, and I get to travel to so many of the world’s wine regions, not just for work, but to explore and enjoy!
- You have said more than once that you only embark on initiatives that really win you over. What qualities must a project have to catch your attention?
There is such a high percentage of the wine business that is same-same. People not doing anything different than their competitors and somehow thinking they are going to be successful. This is so misguided. I want to be involved with people who see that there is room for innovation in the wine business. For example, bodegas that realize they need good communication, need good labels, and need good clean wine!
- You are currently based in Barcelona, but you have lived in many parts of the world. I'm sure you have lots of experiences where you have had the chance to delve into wine culture. Could you tell us where you enjoy wine the most and the best?
I really loved the wine culture in San Francisco. So many passionate people who loved wines from all over the world. People who collect wine, but also drink and share wine. Sadly I don’t have that here in Spain. I wish more wine lovers here would explore beyond their borders. I agree that there are many world class wines made in Spain, but wine lovers here should also embrace wines from all over the world. If you’re a wine drinker like that in Barcelona, please let me know – I’d love to join your wine group!
- Today, many wine regions emphasize their identity. In your opinion, which areas have stood out in recent years? What makes the style of their wines stand out?
I know it’s been happening for a while, but here in Spain Bierzo is so exciting right now. So much exploration into what the terroir there is saying to the vignerons. Internationally, I love the Jura and Arbois, but really just for the whites, which are so electric and vibrant. The reds I don’t like as much. Not enough joy and deliciousness in them. Speaking of identity, I wish that producers of “natural” wines would focus more on getting their wines to show identity. Too many are buried under flaws or manipulation of winemaking. Natural winemakers, please think hard about what you are trying to achieve, and please, make sure your wines retain a good level of “deliciousness”!
- In your work as a consultant to wine companies, what are the most frequent challenges you face? What is your motto when starting a project?
It seems really minor but honestly the biggest challenge is labels. I am frequently asked to help improve sales or branding and the first thing we talk about is labels. So often the labels are awful! You generally have only one tiny moment in time to communicate with your customers, and that’s when they’re looking at the label on the shelf in the store. So make it a good one! Create a label that invokes a positive emotion in the potential customer and convinces them to buy it! And please please please, don’t let your cousin design the label. Spend a lot of time creating a really good design brief and then get a professional to make draft after draft until it’s great. This is so important.
- In such a competitive market where new companies are appearing every day, are you someone who believes that it is more difficult to sell than to make a good wine?
There are three parts to wine: growing the grapes, making the wine, selling it. The first two are tiny tiny parts of the equation. The hardest thing is selling it. Everyone agrees with this. All your effort should be in convincing people to buy, and then re-buy, your wine.
- Climate change is directly affecting ecosystems. Changes in weather conditions will mean that areas that are perfect for vine cultivation today will cease to be so in the future, and vice versa, regions that are not great today will become good. Do these changes jeopardise the quality of the wine?
Climate change will change where grapes are grown for wine, and it will change what grapes are grown in specific regions. For example, will we still have Cabernet and Merlot in Bordeaux in 25 years? Pinot Noir in Burgundy in 50 years? So we will lose those quality wine regions from a classical sense. But I challenge you to go to England and taste the outstanding quality of sparkling wines made there. In 20 years I predict they will be more precious than Champagne. And that’s all the result of climate change.
- Natural wines are in fashion. However, there is no regulation to say which wines are actually minimal intervention wines. What do you think about certifications? Do you think they help the consumer or limit the producer?
Yes, of course rules or guidelines would help consumers understand what they are choosing to buy and drink. But good luck getting the Natural wine producers to agree! They all have such strong opinions that I don’t think there will ever be agreement. And the one rule I’d like to see in these wines will definitely never be included: no flaws! No brett, no oxidation, no mouse, no VA, please please please!
- With your work, you have visited countless wineries. Do you think wine tourism is enjoying a boom? What challenges do you think are coming our way in the next few years?
Wine tourism in other countries can be amazing. Go down to Australia or New Zealand and see how enjoyable it is. Every winery has strong “cellar door” energy, where they have a restaurant or café alongside their tasting room. It creates a brand ambassador in every person who walks through the door. And it’s possible in Spain too. I was just staying at the Hotel Marques de Riscal. The general manager said that before they built the Frank Gehry designed hotel, they had around 2.000 visitors a year. Now (pre-Covid at least) they have 100.000 a year! Build it and they will come.
- As a co-owner of a 10-ha vineyard in Priorat, when it comes to making your own wines it is impossible not to put a lot of pressure on yourself. How do you manage to stay impartial and try to get the best out of your vineyards without seeking a quality that might be impossible to achieve?
It comes back to blind tasting. We are constantly tasting our wines blind against other wines from the Priorat. We are assessing lots (barrels or tanks) and doing our blends blind. It’s the only way to stay impartial. We also have an amazing winemaking consultant, Dominique Roujou to help us with this. He’s not responsible for the commercial side so he can stay totally impartial when helping us.
- Another of your great passions is gastronomy, a hobby that goes really well with wine. But do you have any other hobbies that you enjoy spending time on?
I’m a very social person, so much of my “spare” time is spent with friends and travel. But I also try to stay in shape, so I do a lot of sport. My dear friend Ferran Centelles got me into Padel and I love plahing that sport with him!
- Finally, although you must have so much to say here from your experience, could you tell us about some of the wines you have liked the most recently?
I had the good fortune to taste a horizontal of current release Pol Roger recently. The non-vintage, the vintage, and the Sir Winston Churchill. Wow. All of them great as individual wines, but as a group so much fun! Pol Roger is probably my favorite of the “big houses”.
I also got to try Chateau Rayas for only the second time in my life recently. They make such stunning wines. 100% Grenache (unusual for Chateauneuf do Pape), with amazing power but also elegance. Sure, it’s a crazy expensive wine (I wasn’t paying, thank goodness!) but it lived up to the hype. And in Spain, I was on a trip to Jerez recently and of the hundreds of Sherry wines we tasted, I was completely blown away by an Oloroso from Fernando de Castilla. A wine that had so much age but still alive and fresh. So much energy and verve. And just plain delicious!