Describe a normal day in the life of Almudena Alberca…Active, always. My days at the winery days are also active, vineyards, winemaking, tastings, blending, etc. Other days I’m fortunate enough to share the work I do at the winery with our end clients. I love joining the sales team on their trips to different markets. On my days off, I like exercising, going to the mountains or the sea, and cooking for friends and family.
What does it feel like to be a Master of Wine? You are one of the few people in Spain to hold the title…
I’m proud of myself for having overcome all the obstacles and challenges along the way and managing to combine it with my professional career. I also feel a certain responsibility to contribute something of value with everything I do, which implies helping the sector.
How did you go about getting the title? Can you explain the process a little?
For me, the process took a little over 6 years during which I had to gradually implement different disciplines so that I would be ready to pass the corresponding exams. In order to obtain the title, you have to pass 3 practical exams that consist of blind tastings, which can include wines made from any variety, anywhere in the world. This means doing a lot of blind tastings as practice, visiting wine regions, and understanding how and why every wine is made. Then there is the theory part, which consists of 5 sections (viticulture, winemaking, the handling of wine, business/marketing, and contemporary issues [all of the wine-related topics not covered by the previously named disciplines]). This means reading a lot of international magazines and books, traveling, speaking to experts in each subject area, etc. Finally, once you’ve passed both parts of the exam, you have to prepare a research paper on a wine-related topic you haven’t studied previously.
Keep in mind that in addition to studying all of these subjects on an international level, you have to do so in English. This means you have to learn how to write a research paper in English, which involves a very different methodology from our educational system, in order to successfully complete the essay.
While I was tackling this learning process, my work life was quite intense. As a professional winemaker, I have to focus exclusively on winemaking an average of 3 months out of the year. The harvest is one of the best parts of the winemaking process, but it is also very intense, and we commit ourselves, body and soul, 7 days a week, to making sure everything turns out as well as possible.
I feel so fortunate to have had the support of my family, two dear friends who were always there for me, my mentor Pedro Ballesteros, and my current boss, Antonio Soto (GM of Grupo Bodegas Palacio 1894), who always had my back. I have them to thank, without their support this wouldn’t have been possible, no matter how many hours I put in.
Only 383 people have this title, and of these, only 131 are women. Do you think women are often overlooked in the world of wine and food?
Yes, only one third of all Masters of Wine are women. I don’t think that women are overlooked, but that the situation in the wine world is similar to many other sectors where the role of women is gradually evolving to include positions of greater responsibility. I also think that 15 or 20 years ago, women didn’t really think about becoming winemakers or winegrowers unless they came from families with a history in the wine world. Now this amazing world that we work in has become more visible and appealing to women.
Do you think there are differences between men and women when it comes to tasting wine?
If we’re talking about trained professional wine tasters then no, I don’t think there is a gender difference. There might be one among end consumers, simply because we’re biologically different and our hormonal processes are different, and these factors alter our sensory perception.
How do you feel when you read headlines that call you “the Spanish woman leading the wine world”?
It’s incredible, isn’t it? I’ve also seen myself described as the “lady of wine,” and I feel very proud that other wine professionals would see me as such. I celebrate and share it with everyone who, like me, strives to build a better wine world. I still lead a normal life, and although I’m confident in my knowledge and abilities, I still believe that it’s important to constantly improve and push myself further, because this is what drives me to take the next step.
Has this opened doors for you on a professional level?
Your life changes in small ways, you have greater visibility and new opportunities come your way. But when it comes down to it, I’m still a winemaker. I’ve been making wine and managing vineyards for 16 years, and this continues to be my profession.
What does it take to become a Master of Wine?
Enthusiasm, passion, determination, curiosity, inquisitiveness—I think all Masters of Wine share these qualities. And obviously, you need a flair for wine tasting and communication.
And to be a good winemaker?
Winemakers are multidisciplinary professionals who run the winery, which means you have to really understand all aspects of the winemaking process, from the vineyard to the end consumer. Important qualities would include being a good wine taster; understanding the different fermentation processes and aging; knowing how to prepare wines so they evolve as intended; knowing how to blend wines to obtain appealing, harmonious results; having management skills and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
What does wine represent for you?
My passion. My life revolves around wine.
Where does your passion for wine come from?
I’m fascinated by its dynamic nature, by winegrowing, the processes of transformation from grape to wine, the aging regimes, the velo de flor (a thin layer of yeasts that form on top of certain wines), traveling to different wine regions, engaging with consumers…everything.
What are you working on right now and what plans do you have for the near future? And in the long term?
I still work at Viña Mayor, developing the implementation of quality standards for all wines and expanding the winery’s portfolio by bringing out more contemporary styles like El Secreto or the La Poda collection, our range of innovative wines.
Soon I’ll be working in La Rioja, a region I really wanted to explore as a winemaker. In the long term, I want to keep learning and enjoying everything I do.
What advice would you give a winemaker who is just starting out?
I would say study, get good training, and travel to expand your horizons.
A Brief Taste
The best moment to enjoy a glass of wine?
With people you care about.
A song to accompany a glass of wine?
So many! Wine and music speak to the soul and touch you on an emotional level. It depends on the mood.
A place to get lost in?
What do you do in your free time?
I like to cook and take walks in the countryside or on the beach.
A flaw and a virtue?
What did you want to be as a child?
A doctor and a singer.
And when you’re older?
A happy winemaker.