I’ve been quite busy this week teaching another round of WSET2 for The Study at Enderun (4th floor Podium Mall, Ortigas, Pasig). I can only describe myself (and my state of mind) during these times in one word: Unlivable.
I guess what I’m trying to do (and say) is to show readers what really goes on behind the scenes for both educators and students as a way to give a real idea of what WSET is all about… And inadvertently make this as a sort of “love letter” (more like an apology, really) to my husband and my friends for not being around during these times.
To quote the website, WSET (Wines and Spirits Education Trust, with headquarters in London) “provides best-in-class education and qualifications to inspire and empower the world’s wine and spirits professionals and enthusiasts… (Their) qualifications are globally recognised as the international standard in wine and spirit knowledge. They are designed for those who are just starting out in their careers, as well as established professionals, and the many enthusiasts who have a passion for wines and spirits.”
In other words, they can cater to whatever level the student is. Also, wherever the certificate awardee ends up in the world, his accreditation will be recognised.
Is there substance behind what seems to be all this “hype”? I can’t speak for all awardees, but what I can honestly say based from experience is that my Advanced Certification has helped me in quite a number of ways:
- The knowledge I’ve gained after getting my certification has been beneficial in all the wine-related fields I’ve gone into: The academe, my consulting, and this blog. I’m not claiming at all that I know everything there is to know about wines and spirits, but at the very least, my certification has provided an excellent foundation, as well as a workable mental framework for me to do further research on topics I don’t understand.
- As it’s internationally recognized, it has allowed me to be taken seriously by people I meet globally (distributors, winemakers, and even friends who randomly send me photos of their grocery trips asking my opinion on their purchases… Yes, I’m talking about you, MJ).
- Most especially for Level 3, it has provided me with the right tools to evaluate wines without bias, thus keeping things professional despite my preferences for a certain style, or my “wine phase” during an evaluation.
That said, here’s what goes on behind the scenes for:
It’s a LOT of prep work. At the end of the day, each student works to be able to pass a certification exam… And personally, it doesn’t matter if a student passed with merit or distinction; or whether he passed an exam dated recently or x years ago (as with all certification exams, they tend to be more difficult as the years progress). All that matters is that he passed.
For me, it’s advantageous if a student has traveled to a couple of wine regions, been exposed to different sorts of wine, been in the wine industry for a sufficient amount of time, and knows French (a lot of wine principles are in the language).
My personal experience of having passed Level 3 in one go involved having half of the things I’ve mentioned. I hadn’t traveled outside of Asia before I took my exams, but I was fortunate to have studied with brilliant friends (this is a little shout-out to I and J) during weekends with wine and wine encyclopaedias in our tiny old apartment (or Wine Story). That’s just the way to pass it: Endless hours of study, answering the workbook that comes in the study kit, reading every inch of the textbook, and pages upon pages of excel sheets and maps.
I highly recommend as supplementary reading The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson (I wish I’d had this when I was reviewing for my certification, everything is there!).
I never took Level 2.
This was the reason why, in my first attempt to teach for The Study, I took a week to basically disappear off the face of the planet and hole up in my office to make colour-coded personal notes and excel sheets, as well as revisit several books (again, TOCW was proven indispensable). I also had to recalibrate my palate (I’ve been out of the academe for years, and wine writing for the blog got me to focus more on making the text digestible and entertaining as opposed to being technical).
There’s also the added challenge of teaching according to WSET standards (they do provide us with an outline on how to accomplish each class) while adjusting to (ideally) each student’s learning abilities, purposes, and backgrounds (which is why I prefer more “intimate” classes), keeping in mind that at the end of it all, they really need to pass their exams.
I only took about 3 days for my second attempt, and I’m hoping it would get better from there (I want to have a social life beyond prepping!).
At the end of it all, I did come to a point of asking myself, is all this prep work to get more people to understand wine on a technical level even worth it?
Incidentally, the answer came to me while I was lying down on our couch after my second day of teaching (the classes we offer are three days of seven hour long classes, so one can imagine how exhausted I was at that point). My husband had to buy a bottle of wine for his boss, and my fatigue meant that he was needed to do it without me (his walking “wine guide”, as some of our friends put it). I recommended a style that I knew his boss liked, and a store that had a reputation of retailing quality wines in that neighbourhood at that hour.
I told him to get a bottle of Burgundy (his boss preferred either sweet OR low tannin wines, and I felt that a Burgundy would fit the style and be impressive for a man of his stature).
The lady, however, hands my husband a bottle of (drumroll please), Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a Southern Rhône wine composed of any of the 18 (or 13, depending on the textbook) grapes allowed in the region, a number of which tend to be big, bold, powerful reds.
This, of course, was not at all what my husband was looking for (thank goodness he took a photo and sent it to me, wondering whether or not it was just him that thought that was strange).
When he explained that he was looking for BURGUNDY (specifically because of the style he had in mind), the lady replied, “Ah, but that is a Burgundy bottle sir.”
With that in mind, I’d like to echo a colleague’s sentiments and say, we have a long way to go, but I think it makes furthering wine education in the Philippines exciting. After all, Pinoys are beginning to travel more and thus are becoming familiar with wines from all over the world (people actually have preferences now, which is a far cry from what it was as recent as twenty years ago, when it was all about “red or white, sweet please”).
I am quite fortunate and thankful for being allowed to teach WSET 2 in The Study by Enderun in Podium about once a month. If you want to attend some of our classes, please inquire through:
Landline: (+632) 655-3609
Mobile: (+63917) 575-8701
Shout-out to my last batch of students, and good luck on your exams!