“Welcome to the Program!” (MW Marathon Lap 1)

I got the news last week that I was admitted into the MW program! So (whew!) all that effort I put into my application and the entrance exam was worth it. 🙂

Since receiving this email, my feelings have been a blend of excited with a sense of accomplishment and a dash of nervousness. There’s a well-known saying amongst first year law students: “Look to your left, look to your right, because one of you won’t be here by the end of the year.”  And while this wasn’t an accurate statement about my law school experience, I suspect it might be about my MW experience.  More people have gone into space than have successfully passed the MW exam.  Although that exam is a couple years away, that’s still a rather daunting statistic for us Stage 1 MW students. 

When I started law school, I knew the bar exam was looming after graduation and that I would need to pass it in order to become an actual lawyer. Likewise, I know that there’s a Stage 1 Assessment exam (probably in June 2022), then the Stage 2 MW exam, and finally a 10,000-word research paper to complete in order for me to become an actual Master of Wine.

However, I’m not going to worry about all that right now.  I’m going to approach the MW program like I’m training for a race: I’ll keep the end goal in sight – but I’m going to focus my attention on the next step in front of me. 

Truth be told, I have never particularly enjoyed running.  However, there were a few years in my life when I was a runner.  It was good for blowing off steam and stress and many a flashcard was reviewed while putting one foot painfully in front of the other.  But I didn’t start off running a marathon – I started with a program called Couch to 5k.

The Couch to 5K program (or C25K) basically takes a non-runner from sitting on their ass to running a 5k (3.1 miles) in 9ish weeks.  The program starts off VERY slowly – something like 20 minutes total with alternating running one minute and walking for 90 seconds.  But by easing into it – you’re better able to avoid shin splints, burnout and aching knees.  And by breaking down the larger goal of 5K into smaller, manageable sized steps it made the whole process a lot less painful – mentally and physically.

So I’ll take the MW program one step at a time.  Sometimes I’ll be running fast, pain free and (hopefully) with that elusive runner’s high. But other times I’ll be walking . . . or even limping along.  And there will be times when I stop moving altogether so I can catch my breath.

But for right now, I’m going to treat these next couple of weeks as doing some really enjoyable stretching before my first laps.  I want to enjoy this moment – because I know I’ve got a long run ahead of me.

Me after finishing my first 5K – The Polar Bear Plunge in Seattle, WA

Is it Time for the Wine Media Conference to Actively Plant New Varieties?

Recently, Bordeaux shocked the wine world by permitting six new grape varieties within the AOC.  Climate change and rising temperatures prompted the region to re-evaluate continuing to rely solely on traditional Bordeaux varieties.  There was increasing concern that with hotter and drier weather, traditional varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot would no longer be able to “deliver the quality, characteristics and volume required for sustainability in coming decades.”  The newly admitted varieties are more adaptable to the changing environment and the hope is that they will help the Bordeaux blend evolve well into the future.

In 2018, the Wine Bloggers Conference became the Wine Media Conference

The Wine Bloggers Conference was founded in 2008, and three years ago changed its name to the Wine Media Conference (WMC) “to reflect the reality of what our attendees were already doing: communicating about wine on blogs, social media, and traditional media.”  After a vinvestigation of this year’s WMC attendee list, a handful of podcasters and YouTubers can be found, but the vast majority of attendees were bloggers.  So, while the name of the conference may have changed, the blend remains pretty much the same.

The death of the wine blog has been discussed for years, but the fact of the matter is: people consume information differently now than they did in 2008.  The blog is being replaced with other forms of media like podcasts, YouTube or TikTok videos, and social media micro-blogs.  And while this is not nearly as drastic as climate change, the WMC needs to address the challenges the blog is facing in this changing environment.

The Wine Media Conference should actively plant new varieties.

What does actively plant mean?

Like a vineyard, the conference should be nurtured if it is going to grow and thrive into the future.  This means letting potential attendees know about the conference in advance of the event.  The conference host Zephyr Wine Conferences posted frequently throughout the spring on Instagram, and I posted about the conference back in May, but for the most part – social media was dead silent about the WMC until it was actually underway. 

And while there was the usual flurry of posts during the event, this is too late for people to sign up for the current conference – and too early for them to sign up for the following year.  For the WMC to be successful into the future, it ideally should have continual promotion from as many voices as possible . . . and not just during the event.

What new varieties should be planted?

Bordeaux chose new varieties that would help the region continue to produce wine given the changing climate.  The WMC should choose new varieties that will help the event continue to champion wineries and wine regions given the changing ways in which people consume information. New varieties to consider include podcasters, vloggers, social media mavens and yes – even the dreaded Instagram “I” word. 

I can feel dozens of eyeballs rolling right now, but here are the facts:

Instagram has one billion active users globally, and half of these users (500 million!) are on the site every day.

Instagram users spend an average of 30 minutes per day on the site.

81% of people use Instagram to help research products and services.

To be clear, I’m not talking about vapid Instagram influencers who have absolutely nothing to say about the bottle of wine they’re holding (which is often out of focus because it’s not the main purpose of the photo).  I’m referring to the influencers whose feed might be predominately sponsored posts and selfies, but they also have a desire – and a significant reach – to support wineries and wine regions. And just because they’re showing this support differently than traditional wine bloggers, doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong . . . or that they aren’t media.  Media is defined as “the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, magazines, and the internet, that reach or influence people widely.” So yes, influencers are “media.” 

Interestingly, the WMC sessions I attended that were focused on Instagram and personal branding were practically standing room only.  Both sessions also nearly went over their allocated timeframe with numerous questions from attendees – a clear indication that bloggers are interested in learning how to use or improve their social media reach.  This is something that influencers could help with . . . if we’d open the door to them. 

Twenty or so years ago, wine blogging was just getting started.  For many years, wine bloggers have been treated as lesser than, or at least not as professional as, “traditional” wine writers.  Now that bloggers have an established space in wine media – why not open the door to other emerging “non-traditional” voices?  By actively planting these new varieties, together we can all bring more attention and new consumers to the wine industry.

The Masters of Wine Marathon: The Entrance Exam

In my last blog post, I detailed the Master of Wine application process up to the actual entrance exam.  The Master of Wine entrance exam is the final hurdle to apply for the program – consisting of a 90 minute theory section and a 90 minute practical (tasting) section.  Applicants can attempt either section first and the sections can be taken on different days or both hammered out on the same day.

Here’s a little more detail on what the theory exam looks like: (Richard Hemming also covers this on the IMW website – and clearly he’s more knowledgeable about this than I am!)

Theory Section:

Applicants have 90 minutes to answer one question.  The question needs to be answered in an essay format and should be presented in a logical and factual manner. Each point made should be supported by evidence and examples from the world of wine. Logic, facts and evidence . . . as a former lawyer, this is music to my ears! In other words, this is not a brain dump of everything you know about a subject matter. There’s no set word count – but Richard Hemming gives an example of somewhere between 700 to 1,200 words (for point of reference – this blog post is about 1,400 words)

The entrance exam questions are past MW exam questions – or at least very, very similar.  The MW exam covers five topics:

  • Viticulture
  • Vinification & Pre-Bottling Procedures
  • Handling of Wine
  • Business of Wine
  • Contemporary Issues

However, the entrance exam will only cover four of these.  I’ve heard that the “Contemporary Issues” isn’t included on the entrance exam because the IMW wants to test applicants on their technical knowledge for admittance.  Not sure if this is true or not, but it does make sense.

MW exam questions from the past 20 years (!!) can be found on the IMW website. For the entrance exam, applicants will choose one question from three options.  The past two years’ entrance exams are also published on the IMW website (seriously – how fantastic is this transparency?!) Actual entrance exam questions change every day during the application process – smart move on the IMW’s part to prevent collusion amongst applicants. Which I’d like to think doesn’t happen at this level, but then I remember what happened with the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Of the two exams, theory was the one I was most nervous about, so I spent most of my time preparing for this section.  My “strategy” for this hurdle was three-fold:

1.  Review Past MW Exam Questions From 2015 Onward. The idea of reviewing 20 years worth of questions was just too daunting and seemed like overkill for the entrance exam . . . and that’s coming from me – the QUEEN of overkill.  So, I decided to focus on the past 6 years worth of questions. Interestingly, there does seem to be a number of topics that come up on the regular – yes, I’m looking at you sulfite levels.

2.  Focus Most of My Preparation on Q1 and Q4.  Based on my research, Viticulture (Q1) and The Business of Wine (Q4) come up as an option on every entrance exam – with Vinification (Q2) & Wine Handling (Q3) rotating as the topic of the third option.  As a result, most of my research and prep work was done on past Viti and Wine Business questions.  And while I didn’t completely ignore Q2 & Q3, since these are already my weaker spots, I didn’t spend precious hours spinning my wheels on these subjects for the entrance exam.  If admitted to the program, I figure I’ll have several years to figure out all things Vini and Wine Handling.  Well, probably not ALL things . . .

3.  Outline (!!) the Main Points for Each Topic.  Outlines have worked for me for over 25 years now, and they’re the basis for this blog – so I can’t stop now!  For the entrance exam, I outlined 40+ questions and did a cursory review of about a dozen others. The whole process made think about wine in different ways, like: what should vineyard managers do to prepare for a labor shortage? Are supermarkets a positive force for mainstream wine consumers? Does pale colored rosé mean that the wine is better quality? 

For those of you doing the math at home, yes – I had to answer only ONE question and I prepared for about 50.  However, this process was by no means a waste of time because if I DO get in – the Stage 1 Assessment exam for MW students is also based on past MW questions.  So, having already reviewed and outlined several of these questions – I’ll at least have a start for my studies.  And if I don’t get in . . . well, I learned a lot of interesting things about wine.

Alrighty, that takes care of the Theory portion of the entrance exam.  Now let’s look at the Tasting section, which Richard Hemming also briefly covers on the IMW website.

Tasting Section:

Applicants have 90 minutes to answer a series of questions about four wines.  The entrance exam wines are released on the IMW website prior to the exam – so, obviously, the goal is not to simply identify the wines.  Applicants can either purchase and taste these wines or do a “dry note” based off of tech sheets, etc. 

Also, this is NOT writing a WSET style tasting note (Halle-fucking-lujah!)  This type of note might help you draw your conclusions – but the note itself is not what the IMW is looking for.  Historically, questions that have been asked include: identify variety and origin, discuss quality with reference to winemaking techniques, comment on the method of production and who would buy this wine.  Truth be told, I much prefer this approach for tasting notes as opposed to the regurgitation of five aroma descriptors and rote applicable of BLIC. 

My strategy for how to prepare for the tasting (aka practical) section of the entrance exam was also three-fold:

1.  Attend the Online MW Intro Course.  The IMW ran several introductory online live webinars in the months leading up to the entrance exams and I HIGHLY recommend anyone considering the program sign up for one as soon as the dates are released.  The moderators walk attendees through the entire program, the application process and go through a practice tasting “MW style.”  After the course, I had a better understanding of what the IMW is looking for on the entrance exam and what evidence would help “prove” my conclusions of variety, origin, quality, etc.

2.  Practice a Ton of Open Label Tasting.  Since the entrance exam isn’t blind, doing lots of blind tasting as prep work wasn’t going to be overly beneficial to me.  Instead, I practiced writing “MW style” tasting notes a couple times a week and answered hypothetical questions about what’s in the glass – origin, production methods, consumer appeal, etc.  This helped me get into a groove with the IMW way of analyzing a wine.

3.  Learn the Shit out of the Wines.  The 2021 entrance exam wines were:

  • Wine 1: 2019 Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany (approx. £15/$20)
  • Wine 2: 2019 Riesling (dry), Alsace, France (approx. £17/$23)
  • Wine 3: Pale Cream Sherry, Jerez, Spain (approx. £13/$18)
  • Wine 4: Dry Amontillado Sherry, Jerez, Spain (approx. £22/$30)
Entrance Exam Wines (minus the Pale Cream Sherry)

For the life of me, I couldn’t find a Pale Cream Sherry anywhere (perhaps because over 90% of these wines are exported to the UK!)  So I did a dry note for this one, but purchased the other three wines. In addition to tasting the wines (over & over), I also tracked down tech sheets, researched what these styles typically tasted like and how they were produced, and also read up on popularity (or lack thereof in this case) amongst mainstream consumers for these wine styles.

The Actual Entrance Exam!

I opted to get the tasting exam out of the way first and then take theory the following week.  The IMW also had a mock exam, not necessarily to test your knowledge, but to get familiar with their online system.  This was quite helpful – anything to remove exam day stress is key! 

Without going into too much detail – for both exams, I’m happy with how much (and how) I prepared.  The IMW will release the entrance exam questions in a few months, so I’m not going to jump the gun and disclose them here.  In looking back, I put in a LOT of effort just to gain acceptance to the program.  But I wasn’t going to start off half-assed.  I wanted to give it my best shot – and I did.

And now I just wait . . . I’ll find out in early September if I’ve been admitted to the program.  Either way – I’ll let you know!

The Masters of Wine Marathon: The Application Process

Today, there are 416 Masters of Wine in the world.  Without a doubt, achieving this distinction is an incredibly challenging feat.  Nonetheless, I’ve officially decided to give it a go and apply for the Masters of Wine program later this year!

I plan to document my experiences here on my blog – so depending on how the application process goes, this might be a quick three-part series, or a several years long one.  I’m inspired by what Richard Hemming did when he wrote about his Master of Wine journey for Jancis Robinson’s site, but if you’ve read me for any length of time you know my language will likely be a bit more . . . colorful? 😉

To become a Master of Wine, there are several hurdles to clear – the first one being: get accepted into the program. So I’m focusing my energy on the application process right now (and not what might come after!) and am seriously hoping I don’t end up like this poor gal and miss this hurdle right out of the gate. 

The Institute of Masters of Wine accepts applications annually each May.  Individuals who are accepted into the program are usually notified sometime in September.  So, like waiting for WSET Diploma results, you’re in for a relatively long waiting period where you can either obsess over it daily or forget about it because it’s outside of your control.  I’ll try to do the latter, but – let’s be honest – will probably end up doing the former.

Recently, it’s been estimated that between 50-60% of applicants are admitted. There are numerous requirements to even apply – but after looking at the criteria, I believe I have a decent shot of getting in.  And when doubts start to creep in (as they frequently do), I just ask myself: “why NOT me?”

For those of you who are curious – I’ve detailed the requirements for admission to the MW program as well as a WSET inspired personal “quality assessment” of myself clearing these hurdles below.  Disclaimer: as someone who is merely planning to apply, I obviously should NOT be your main source of information for this process – the IMW website should be your true north.

Alrighty – let’s take a lap around the application process:

The Nine Hurdles of the MW Application Process

Hurdle #1: Wine Qualification –  Candidates must have a wine qualification “at the WSET Diploma level or equivalent.”  Based on the IMW website, a Bachelor’s or Master’s in enology or viticulture, or a higher level sommelier certification (Advanced and above) would qualify as “equivalent.” 

My personal assessment: Outstanding.  I’ve earned WSET Diploma, so this hurdle is easily cleared.  Well . . . not “easily” – but this is one requirement I’m confident I’ve satisfied.

Hurdle #2: Work in the Wine Trade – Candidates must have a minimum of three years professional work experience in the global wine community.  This encompasses everything from wine buyers to winemakers, journalists and educators. 

My personal assessment: Very Good.  I have several years wine retail experience in addition to being a WSET and IWS instructor.  I also developed and taught one of the courses for the Gonzaga University Wine Institute. The only reason I’m not giving myself an “outstanding” here is that this past year presented some challenges in pursuing a full-time career in the wine industry.  I know I’m not alone with this, so am hopeful they’ll factor this into their decision.

It is also specified that candidates who may not meet the minimum three years experience requirement can apply if they feel they fit “within the spirit of the IMW mission”, which is: to promote excellence, interaction, and learning across all sectors of the global wine community.  I strongly believe I satisfy this criteria.  With my Instagram wine quizzes, mentoring and coaching of wine students, and leading corporate and consumer tastings – my passion and career (albeit much of it gratis) is encouraging others to learn more about wine.  I’m confident that my myriad of experiences in wine education will be enough to get me over this hurdle.

Hurdle #3: Reference Letter – Candidates must submit a letter of reference to support their application from a Master of Wine or another senior wine trade professional.

My personal assessment: Outstanding.  I’ve already chatted with an MW and she has agreed to be my reference. Additionally, my Diploma instructor is a Master Sommelier (and would qualify as a “senior wine trade professional”) so I have a plan B if necessary.

Hurdles #4-7: Personal Statements and Supporting Documentation – Candidates also must include the following with their application:

  • A statement regarding how you intend to dedicate sufficient study time to be fully prepared for the MW exam.
  • In no more than 500 words, a statement of motivation on how you see yourself contributing to the IMW’s mission of promoting excellence, interaction and learning in the global wine community.
  • Brief details on your wine tasting experience and how you intend to access wines throughout your studies, in preparation for the MW exam.
  • Supporting documentation for your applicationsuch as copies of your WSET Diploma (or equivalent) certificate.

My personal assessment: Very Good.  In short:

  • I have an incredibly supportive spouse (which is of utmost importance!) and no kids. After years in the corporate world, I’m at a point in my life where I have ample time, energy and passion to dedicate to studying for the MW exam.
  • As mentioned above, I’m currently spending countless hours on my edutaining wine quizzes and coaching wine students for certifications.  And I truly LOVE doing this!!  If this doesn’t fall within the mission of promoting “excellence, interaction and learning in the global wine community” – frankly, I’m not sure what would.
  • For WSET Diploma, I personally purchased 95% of the wines necessary for the course.  And although I’m willing to do this again for MW, I’m hopeful (as is Hubs!) that we can bring that percentage down a bit.  As the world starts to open back up, I’m planning to resume regular tastings at my favorite local wine store, forming a tasting group and participating in blind tasting courses from local wine experts.
  • So . . . I actually don’t have this in hand – and I’m not sure if I will by May.  But there’s got to be a way for WSET global to confirm to IMW that I have indeed passed all required units of the Diploma.  This is just a slight hiccup more than a hurdle.

Hurdle #8: Costs Associated with the Application – The MW program in total is several thousand dollars (we’ll get into those details in a future post – gulp).  The application alone is $325.  There are scholarships available and I know of at least one individual who has established a GoFundMe account for his pursuit of MW.  The costs are an unfortunate barrier to entry for many as opposed to merely a hurdle . . . and this is something that I’d like to help solve in the future.

My personal assessment: We are very fortunate to be in a position to afford the costs of the MW program. This is basically the college education and/or wedding of the children we didn’t have.

Final hurdle: Entrance Exam

Once candidates have met all the requirements above and submitted all the necessary documentation, there’s an online entrance exam consisting of a theory question and a practical tasting component.  I’ll cover this last hurdle in detail in my next blog post.  Just as there are techniques for clearing actual hurdles (who knew??!) – there are techniques I plan to put in play to clearing the entrance exam as well.

Stay tuned! 

Life After WSET Diploma: Now What?

You know that feeling an Olympic athlete has after she’s trained for years for one event, successfully competes on the mat/in the ring/on the field, takes her place on the podium to celebrate her victory, then goes home, looks at herself in the mirror and asks “so, now what do I do?”

Yeah, neither do I.

But I DO know that feeling when after nearly 3 years of studying, completing 5 exams and 1 exhaustive research paper, countless ounces of wine spit, swallowed or spilled, you receive the words “you’ve passed!” on your last WSET Diploma exam. 🙂

Since early 2018, pursuing the WSET Diploma has easily taken up 20 hours of almost every week.  Even if I wasn’t actually sitting and studying – I was listening to podcasts, writing tasting notes, meeting with my study group, attending online workshops on how to actually write the fucking exam or wondering whether the whole thing was worth all this time and effort.

But now that it’s over, I’m looking ahead and wondering “so . . . what the hell do I do now?” 

This is probably not a surprise to those of you who know me – but I love making lists (second only to making outlines, of course!)  So, I’ve brainstormed some options for my next step:

Do I keep up the study momentum and apply for the Masters of Wine (MW) program?

Would it be smarter to set a more attainable goal like pursuing the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification?  This is a requirement for entry to the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) program – a course I am very much interested in.

Sidenote: is there any other profession that loves their post-nominals as much as wine?!

Do I revamp my website to make it more wine student friendly with specific information on various certifications, tips for studies and access to online quizzes?

And speaking of quizzes, should I continue with my thrice weekly wine quizzes on Instagram which have connected me with wine students and enthusiasts from all over the world?

Or is the answer “All of the Above?!”

I tend to thrive when I have a clear, set goal to achieve.  And a large part of me wants to see how far I can go.  However, another part of me wants to just enjoy this moment with Diploma and be content at this level. There are just over 10,000 individuals in the world who have earned their WSET Diploma – so this is a huge achievement in and of itself!  But I know myself, and if I don’t at least apply for the MW program – I’ll always wonder . . . “what if?”

Regardless of what I do, I’ve fully embraced the fact that I’m a lifelong learner.  No matter whether it’s pursuing a formal certification, researching topics for wine quizzes, or participating in mind numbing (and sometimes mindless) debates on Wine Twitter- I don’t ever want to have a day where I don’t learn something. So, at least I know that’s the direction I’m heading . . . but there are many paths to choose from.

WSET Diploma: Getting Back in the Saddle . . . Again.

Although I’ve never ridden a horse in my life, I feel like I’ve been bucked off the Beast (WSET Diploma D3) a few times already.  And I have yet to take the actual fucking exam.  After scrambling to find another school in which to take the exam back in May, only to have that exam cancelled worldwide – I’m now aiming to take it at the end of October.  So Buckaroos – it’s time to get back in the saddle!

Now, it’s entirely possible that the October exam will also be cancelled – but that’s out of my control.  What is IN my control is HOW I’m going to study, WHAT I’m going to study and WHEN I’m going to study it.  So I put together a new roadmap to get me from now (“now” actually started a couple months ago) until exam day.  And while this process is intuitive for me, I’m realizing that it’s not for everyone – primarily because I’ve gotten some questions from other wine students on this!

Here’s how I put together my study plan (aka “roadmap”) – some of these suggestions might work for you, and some won’t.  There are several routes to the same destination . . .

Study Schedule
My life for the next 18 weeks!

First things first: Calculate how long you have between now and exam day. This is the easy part – figure out how many days (or weeks) you have from today until the day of your exam. I prefer to schedule my studies weekly as opposed to daily – but you might prefer otherwise.  What’s important is to find what works best for you – be it on a calendar, spreadsheet, etc., but get your blank schedule in front of you.

What does your life look like from now to exam day?  Make sure to account for other things going on in your life when putting together your study plan (please make sure you have other things going on in your life!!)  Mark these clearly on your roadmap so that you don’t over-schedule your studies during these times.

For example, I had to wrap up my research paper on natural wine and take my Spanish Wine Scholar exam before the end of July – so Beast studies were going to take a backseat during this month.  Hubs and I also took a much needed roadtrip, and I wanted to enjoy this time and not be bogged down with books.  So I budgeted study time accordingly – and focused on Beast regions that corresponded with where we were driving!

Airstream photos
“Studying” Paso Robles and Mendocino AVAs!

Ok, now you’ve got your blank schedule with other life goings on blocked out.  Let’s get to filling in the blanks – and for this part, we need to figure out WHAT to study.

What will be covered on the exam?  The Beast focuses on all still wines of the world . . . so, that limits it [insert eyeroll here].  But seriously, for the best guesstimate on what will be covered on your exam – pull out your textbook and look at how it’s broken down.

WSET Diploma D3 Textbooks
The Beast in all it’s glory

For the Beast, France represents over 25% of the total text.  Italy is second with 15%, followed by Spain and Australia with 7% each, and then California 6%.  It therefore lends itself to reason that questions on France will come up more frequently than other regions – so obviously I should spend most of my study time on France, right?  Well – yes, and no.

Let’s say – purely hypothetically – that you have a decent grasp on France, but the entire Southern hemisphere is a bit of a blur to you.  If that’s the case, it might be best to spend a good chunk of your time on what you don’t know instead of cozily reviewing the 10 Cru Beaujolais for the hundredth time.   Let me explain a bit more . . .

Look at what you already know and (this is very important!) analyze your weak spots.  It is SO easy to focus on our strengths and review these instead of tackling the areas we’re weaker in.  Of all wine growing countries, I’m probably most confident about France.  (Yes, even more than my own country – unless a lot of Washington wine questions happen to pop up on the exam).  Given my druthers, I’d focus on all things France and pretty much ignore the entire Southern hemisphere.  So maybe the above example wasn’t purely hypothetical. 😉

You’ve got to balance reviewing what you already know with a more intense focus on what you’re less confident about.  Here are some suggestions on how to go about this:

Break it up a bit.  Let’s say, like me, France is your strongest point.  Rather than plow through the entirety of the country over several weeks in a row – break it into smaller areas and divide these up on your schedule.  This way, you’re spreading out your strength – which will (hopefully!) help keep your confidence level boosted throughout your studies.

Pair up different regions.  I don’t know about you, but I get rather bored studying the same country for weeks on end.  For my Beast roadmap, I decided to group regions together to study in a few different ways:

  • Common threads.  Chenin Blanc does well in the Loire and in South Africa (just ask Vincent and Tania Carême) so I paired those regions up in Week 12.
  • Tannic red with fatty steak.  One of the most traditional food and wine pairings is a big, tannic red with a juicy, fatty steak.  These two balance each other out in part because the steak’s fat and protein break down the tannins in the wine.  So – pick a region that is tannic and hard to swallow on its own for you.  (For me, that’s Germany – it’s a jumble fucking mess in my brain with terms like flurbereinigung and pendelbogen . . . you cannot make these words up!) Now, pair this “tannic” area with a juicy, easy to digest region.  I went with New York because I’ve been there, it’s relatively easy to wrap my brain around and it’s only six pages long! 🙂
  • Review v. Learn.  I paired up Central Italy and Australia in Week 10 – having completed the Italian Wine Scholar program, Central Italy will be more of a review for me.  However, I’ve always struggled with Australia.  So this week’s study session will give me a balance of refresh and review, and learning more from scratch.

Bottom line: fill in your study schedule however makes sense to YOU.  If you’d rather tackle all of Italy at once before moving onto another country – do it.  But know yourself and how your brain works best . . . and this will help you with this next part: figuring out HOW you’re going to study.

Be realistic about time dedication.  This is tough for me because I always think I can get more done in a set time-frame than is actually possible.  Hubs jokes that just because ONE time I drove from our house to San Diego in 50 minutes, that I now think that’s how long it should always take. (Note: except for that one time, it always takes about an hour and ten minutes – and that’s without traffic).

So ask yourself: how much time are you honestly going to be able to study each week, or each day?  I know one Diploma graduate who treated her D3 studies basically like a full time job and studied from 8-5 every day for a few months prior to the exam.  While that’s incredibly impressive – that’s just not realistic for me.  The Beast will be a part-time job for me from now until exam day – probably around 20 hours per week of study time.

How in depth do you want to go?  This is another question that you’ve got to ask yourself and answer honestly: do you want to pass this exam – or do you want to achieve a higher score?  Diploma candidates are made up of wine students who are used to achieving high marks.  Many of us received Merit or Distinction on our WSET Level 3 exams and have come to expect that level of performance from ourselves.  But with the pass rate for the theory portion of the Beast hovering around 40% – you might need to reassess your goals.

Sidebar . . . When I started Diploma, and passed my first exam with Distinction, I set the bar that high.  I was used to doing extremely well on exams – why should Diploma be any different?  (Right now I am laughing at how naïve I was!)  Then my next exam rolled in  with Merit, and the next . . . a straight Pass.  It was about that time I finally accepted that the Diploma is some tough shit and that I might need to lower my expectations of myself – for my own well-being.

So for ME, I’m going to be thrilled to Pass the Beast.  This is my last Diploma hurdle – so if I barely clear it, who cares?  I fucking cleared it and made it to the finish line.  THAT is my goal right now.

This means that for my studies I’m going to focus on the concepts – and not agonize over the details.  For example, regarding Bordeaux, I’ll be able to describe how and why botrytis develops in Sauternes, explain the importance of the 1855 Classification and En Primeur and detail how the various soil types impact wine styles.  But I won’t bog down my brain with minimum aging requirements, permitted yields, or being able to list all the second growths.  Giving myself permission to not attempt to learn everything has been incredibly freeing.  However, if you’re aiming for a Merit or Distinction, you’ll probably need to focus more on those details – and allocate enough study time in order to do this.

Be Accountable.  How are you going to hold yourself to your roadmap?  If you slack off and miss a week, or fall behind because you burrow down too many rabbit holes, do you just say “oh well!” and create a new schedule?   I suppose you could do that . . . I’ve done it.  Several times.  But that kinda defeats the purpose of making a schedule to begin with – doesn’t it?

To help hold myself accountable, besides weekly check-ins with Hubs, I posted my roadmap above and plan to do a few blog updates on my progress between now and the end of October.  So, you all will know if I’ve fallen behind.  And that’s not going to be something I’ll be super excited to admit.

Like I mentioned earlier, everyone’s roadmap will look different because we each have a different starting point.  Some of us might take shortcuts along the way and others might take a much longer route.  Regardless, we’re aiming for the same destination – and hopefully, each one of us will get there intact and still in the saddle. 🙂