After successfully completing Unit 2, I started thinking about the next Unit I was going to tackle in my WSET Diploma pursuit. (Ok, let’s be honest, I started thinking about this months before actually completing Unit 2). So without further ado, here were my options, my thought process, and my decision (Spoiler Alert: Bubbles. Always Bubbles).
Unit 1 – Global Business of Alcoholic Beverages.
There are two parts to Unit 1: a 3,000 word research paper and an in-class case study exam. Candidates can do either of these at any time during the Diploma process. Both involve a fair amount of research and writing, which as a former lawyer, I was actually pretty damn good at once upon a time. So, I’m looking forward to tackling these writing assignments – assuming I’m assigned a topic that I enjoy writing about.
The research paper topics are established by WSET and are released each academic year. This year’s were released in early August, and neither one particularly spoke to me: “The short and long term implications of the 2017 vintage“, or “The Rum Revival.” The 2017 vintage question seems incredibly broad and I’m not all that excited about spending a lot of time researching spirits – particularly since spirits will no longer be a required Unit of the Diploma beginning in August, 2019. I’m optimistic that when I get around to doing the paper that both options will be more wine related . . . and hopefully one will be “why Washington state is the future for the United States wine industry.” A gal can dream, can’t she?
The case study exam is offered three times a year. This is a complete grab bag of alcohol business topics – past case studies have ranged from “social media and the wine industry” to “the négotiant system in Burgundy” to “the wines of South Africa.” I think any of these would’ve been fascinating to explore in detail, which of course means that when I register for the case study (likely in March 2019) my topic will be something like “what sulfur dioxide means to me” or “why mass produced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is the most awesomest wine in the world.”
Unit 3 – Light Wines of the World.
This is the behemoth of the Diploma – covering all wines of the world that don’t fit into the Fortified or Sparkling categories. I don’t know if the tales of its difficulty are greatly exaggerated or not, but I’m not planning to find out any sooner than I need to. Unit 3 will be my last Diploma Unit.
Unit 4 – Spirits of the World.
My wine school is doing one last offering of the Spirits Unit and exam. I originally had this all worked out before we moved down to SoCal – my father-in-law (the infamous T-Bone) was going to be my spirits study-buddy and Hubs and Mom-in-Law (aka Authorista) were going to foot the (bar) bill. T-bone and I would frequent local watering holes to sip and study and then head back to our respective homes for our daily nap. Win-win for everyone. Well, two of us anyways.
However, since Spirits soon won’t be part of the Diploma program, I struggled with whether to try and tackle this Unit or not. I eventually opted for not. Sorry, T-Bone. Sidenote: don’t actually feel sorry for him. I’ve been stocking his wine “cabinet” (underneath his bathroom sink) with Oregon Pinot and Washington Syrah since we moved down here. He’s fine.
Unit 5 – Sparkling Wines of the World.
Unit 6 – Fortified Wines of the World.
Unit 6 is being offered in early September and the exam is on the same date as Unit 5. I know several candidates that are tackling both Units together – and I considered this for about 5 seconds . . .
Bottom line is – I’m not in a huge rush to finish the Diploma. And, like much of what I do in life, would prefer to methodically and systematically go through my studies as opposed to frantically cramming it all in. I am a true ISTJ. So, I opted for the Unit that interested me the most – the shiny object of the Diploma – Sparkling Wines of the World!
Unit 5 – In-Class Experience.
After registering for Unit 5 the day after my Unit 2 exam (seriously – I am Tracy Frickin’ Flick!) I did a little prep work by starting in on some of the suggested readings. Class itself was one very intensive, very full day in early August. Other WSET providers spread Unit 5 in-class time over two days (Napa Valley Wine Academy), or three weeks plus a practice exam (Capital Wine School).
My class was a broad overview of sparkling wines – from different production methods, to Champagne sub-regions, to common labeling terminology. We also tasted through 11 different sparkling wines in class. Although, unlike Unit 2, this wasn’t blind and there was quite a bit less class discussion on them as well. Maybe this was because there were more students in class (10 compared to my 3 in my Unit 2). Or because it was a sunny summer Saturday and people wanted to skedaddle. Although, this is SoCal, almost every Saturday is sunny.
Whatever the case, to me – this portion felt rushed. Actually – the entire day did. Covering all sparkling wines of the world in one day is not my ideal way to learn. It’s just way too much information all at once. But on the bright side, I suppose this is good practice for the MW if I’m able to pursue that in the future since that program is practically all self-study. So until Unit 5 exam day – November 7th – I’m on my own.
Unit 5 – My Study Plan.
I started out with a detailed study plan (I realize this is not shocking). But then with all my travel in August – I quickly had to revise it. I got wrapped up with visiting my beloved Washington state and attending the fabulous Auction of Washington Wines. And then visiting my awesome Bestie and travelling to New York’s Finger Lakes region. In my defense – both were wine related travels, so some degree of “research” was done.
So – here’s my revised Unit 5 study schedule. As I did with Unit 2 – I’m aiming to do some degree of studying daily. I think of my brain like a balloon – I’ll add a little bit more information each day, not too much so that it explodes, and not too little (or too much time off) so it deflates.
Unit 5 – Exam.
Unlike Unit 2, the Unit 5 exam is not multiple choice. It consists of a tasting portion and a theory portion. Both of which must be completed within 65 minutes. I think it’s 30 minutes per section, and then a 5 minute freak out session in between.
Tasting. Candidates are poured three sparkling wines from anywhere in the world and have to write tasting notes on each one in the approved WSET format. Past exams have included a trio of Cava/Vintage Champagne/Prosecco and a NV Champagne/Sekt/Vintage Champagne. After describing the wines, candidates are then asked a “conclusion” question like “discuss the quality/readiness for drinking/country of origin” of the wines.
Theory. Here candidates are asked to write about 3 topics related to sparkling wine. These questions can be ANYTHING! Past exam topics have been: Tank Method, Franciacorta, Pinot Noir, Côtes des Blancs and Prestige Cuvées. So, basically, you’re asked to regurgitate everything you know about these subjects. And quickly – you’ve got about 10 minutes per question. I’m going to need to work on my timing here because at times I can be a bit verbose. True story.
And on that note – I’ll quit writing about the exam and get to studying! 😉