The sun is setting earlier, there’s a slight chill in the evening air, and the first week of football is underway. It’s time to go back to school . . . and I am more than ready.
I’ve been on a study break from the WSET Diploma for the past several months. My last exam was in March for the Unit 1 case study and my next Unit, Fortified Wines of the World, doesn’t start until November 23rd! By that time, I will have had a gap of EIGHT MONTHS.
Even though I haven’t been working on the Diploma this summer, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been studying or learning more about wine. So, if any of you other wine students find yourself with an unplanned “study break” – here are some suggestions on how best to spend it, and still enjoy your time off:
There’s an old adage that says the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. (There’s also a saying that “those who can’t do, teach” – but I think that’s arrogant BS, so I’m going to ignore that one.)
In June, I started teaching WSET Level 2 courses as well as the Italian Wine Scholar certification. Quite honestly, I spent more time preparing for teaching these classes than I did when I was actually a student in these courses myself! There’s an additional layer of stress because it’s not just you counting on you, there’s a classroom full of students counting on you. Thankfully, all that preparation benefitted not only the students – but me too! I have a better grasp on Franciacorta, Bardolino, and German wine laws now having explained them to others. (Well, German wine laws are still confusing AF . . . )
If you don’t have the opportunity to teach a certification course, do a consumer level class at a local wine store, or host a wine tasting with friends, or see if you can lead a course at a community college. Hell – I poured some oaked Cali Chardonnay to compare with a Chablis and had a mini-class in my house with my Hubs and our friend. Doesn’t matter where or how you do it – the lightbulbs will still go off for your students and you’ll still gain a better understanding of the subject matter you’re talking about.
Many people who aren’t in the wine industry think that studying wine means “you get to drink wine all day.” Nope. Tasting wine is not the same thing as drinking wine.
Tasting wine requires getting as close to examination conditions as you possibly can. Sit down with your notebook, compare a couple/few wines against each other (blind is best), and write out your notes exactly how you would for the WSET, CMS, etc. in whatever timeframe you’d be permitted under the exam. And – SPIT for shit’s sake!
Once you’ve reached your conclusions – reveal the wines. And don’t focus so much on whether you got them right or not!! Pay more attention to the WHY. Why did you think the Cabernet Sauvignon was from Napa instead of Bordeaux? Why did you call Chablis instead of Sancerre? Learn from your mistakes. And then taste again the next day. And the next.
Take advantage of your study break to not have to focus on a specific region or variety. Try wines from various regions, styles, and price ranges. Although – be wary of the $3 Chardonnay. Just . . . trust me (or visit my archived stories on Instagram).
Visiting and exploring a region yourself is one of the best ways to learn about wine. By experiencing something firsthand, as opposed to simply reading about it in a textbook, you’re much more likely to retain – and comprehend – this information.
Unfortunately, I’ve had a limited amount of wine travel these past few months – limited to just the North Fork of Long Island and my beloved Washington state. (So, I’ll be sure to nail the .0007% of the Diploma exam that covers those regions.) This old guy is a big reason why I haven’t gotten out of the house more.
Life gets in the way of studying sometimes . . . but life is more important. Soon enough, Hubs and I will be back on the road and in the skies to explore more wine regions. Bottom line: If you have the means to travel to further your studies, and you don’t have an old dog with separation anxiety who gets up half a dozen times a night – DO IT.
Yes – I’m honestly suggesting spending time on social media to further your wine knowledge. But there are caveats: like drinking, keep it in balance and try different outlets. And if you’re truly wishing to expand your studies, just like constantly consuming crap wine affects your palate, following crap accounts affects your mind (and sometimes makes you concerned for the future of humanity – but that’s another blog post). Here are a few suggestions for consuming “higher quality” social media:
Facebook. Search for “wine study” and you’ll find several groups that you can join. Most require you to answer a couple of questions before they’ll approve you (what certification you’re studying, where you’re studying, etc.) I’m a member of a few wine study groups and while there are definitely some obnoxious know-it-alls, most of the group members are supportive and encouraging.
Twitter. Hubs can attest to the fact that I fought joining Twitter for the longest time, but once I caved, I realized he was right (don’t tell him I said this!). Twitter is a seriously awesome platform for wine!
There are several Twitter chats that revolve around wine. UK Wine Hour is my favorite for covering global wine matters and Wining Hour Chat is fun for just getting to know others in the wine community. With these, jump right in and introduce yourself!
Additionally, I’ve found a number of wine accounts on Twitter who discuss and debate a wide range of issues in the wine world – Jamie Goode, Paul Mabray and Felicity Carter to name just a few. With these, it’s not as easy (for me at least) to jump right in, so I tend to watch from the sidelines. Nonetheless, these discussions give me new perspectives and make me think about wine in a different way.
Instagram. Let’s be honest: this can be a challenging platform for informative wine accounts. It’s also time consuming to sift through all the wine lifestyle accounts to find people that focus on wine education as opposed to selfies with bottles.
I post quizzes 2-3 times a week in my stories on my Outwines account. And there are several other accounts that post wine quizzes on a regular basis – my favorites include Spitbucket, Grapegrind, and bin412pgh. There are also accounts like Wineterroir and Wine.by.Alex who post tasting notes in more of a WSET format that are helpful for wine studies.
Listen to Podcasts.
In addition to those mentioned in my post from last year, I’ve also discovered several new (to me!) podcasts that have been helpful with my studies. VinePair discusses current – and often controversial – issues in the drinks business. Matthew’s World of Wine and Drink provides educational overviews of various wine regions, grape varieties and viticulture and winemaking terms. And the UK Wine Show covers more global issues with informative interviews with members of the worldwide beverage industry.
Pursue Other Courses or Certifications.
Just because you’re on a study break from one school, doesn’t mean that another isn’t in session. As I mentioned in a prior post, I strongly suggest not overlapping your certification studies – it just gets too damn confusing and complicated. However, if you have a study gap, this can be a perfect time to pursue a different certification.
During this past summer, I took the Bordeaux Master Level course through the Wine Scholar Guild. There are several of these specialized, higher level programs available for various French wine regions (and rumor has it the WSG is planning to have similar, focused courses for Italian regions as well). The Master Level courses are entirely self-study with a detailed text and access to the Wine Scholar Guild’s online webinars and other materials.
These programs are incredibly deep dives into the regions – way more information and detail than you’re likely to need for any WSET course – including the Diploma. So my hope is that when it comes to studying the Bordeaux and Rhône sections of the dreaded Diploma Unit 3 that I’ll only need to do a cursory review since I’ve taken both of these Master Level courses through the WSG. I’ll keep you posted on how that theory works out. 😉
So as the summer is winding down (or HAS wound down, depending on where you live), I’m gearing back up to study for the second half of the Diploma. The Fortified Wines Unit is next – class is in November, exam in January. Then Unit 3 classes take up most of January and February, exam in May. Finally, I’ve got the research paper which is due at the end of July. I’m wondering if I’ll be kicking myself for leaving that one to the end . . . stay tuned.