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Getting past 'I know what I like'

By Jeremy Wilkinson AIWS                                                                            International Training & Development Advisor                                     Wine & Spirit Education Trust WSET

Do you know your Shiraz from your Cabernet? Probably. Do you know your Sauvignon Blanc from your Chardonnay? Almost certainly. But do you know the important differences between a Barbera and a Barolo and can you tell your Picpoul de Pinet from your Picolit? Maybe not (and if you do the odds are you've already done some heavyweight wine education!). 

For the professional wine education gives crucial knowledge and skills to help produce, select and/or sell wines in a winery, restaurant or retail store. For the enthusiast, wine education bridges the gap between the 'I may not know much about wine but I know what I like' approach and becoming a more informed and savvy customer who isn't afraid to experiment with different types and styles of wines safe in the knowledge that they understand what they are doing.

Wine education has a long tradition on the production side of the business through many world renowned schools of Grape-growing and Winemaking including the University of California at Davis in the United States, the University of Adelaide in Australia and Bordeaux University in France. There are also a number of highly regarded training programmes for those working in the hospitality industry providing specialist skills in Wine Service/Sommelierie

In contrast education for the interested amateur has a far shorter history. There are lots of informal, just for fun, wine tasting groups and for many these are the gateway to a deeper appreciation of wine as more than just another source of alcohol. But what if you want to get more deeply into the subject and to have some proof of your knowledge? 

For an increasing number of people around the world, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is the provider they choose for qualification courses either for those working in the industry or for the passionate enthusiast. The courses are engaging and fun, involve lots of tasting and talking, but at their core are about learning and building new knowledge and skills. 

Courses are typically delivered over the course of several days or evenings in groups of a dozen or so with plenty of tasting to support the classroom teaching. Beginning with the introductory Level 1 courses, starting from no assumed knowledge, all the way up to the Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits, involving a two year course of study which requires true dedication to pass, students gain a detailed understanding of how the world's wines are made and what to expect in terms of style and quality.  The Level 4 Diploma is recognised as the qualification best suited as preparation for the prestigious Master of Wine (MW) qualification.

The WSET has been in the business of providing wine education for the last 40 years or more, originally just for the UK trade. In the early nineties the Trust's education remit was extended to include the education of the general public, and expand its operations beyond the UK, seeing the qualifications   recognised internationally, including countries such USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, France and, now Ireland.

Currently the Wine & Spirit Education Trust is the leading provider of wine education worldwide with 25,000 students coming from outside the UK for the last academic out of a total of over 35,000.  Courses are available in 55 countries and students can study in a number of different languages.  The opportunities to explore, understand and experience the world of wine and spirits has never been greater.

In the end the investment in time, money and effort in wine education pays dividends for those working in the industry in terms of increasing their employment chances and their ability to do their jobs and for the enthusiast in terms of saving money and increased enjoyment by choosing the right wine first time (almost every time!)

Jeremy Wilkinson AIWS                                                                            International Training & Development Advisor