In January and February, all of Grape Experience educators – including myself – attended day-long workshops to learn about the new WSET Diploma in Wine that’s being introduced in August. There are some major changes to the current Diploma program in both teaching approach and in content. It was critical that all WSET educators understand the intentions behind the new Diploma in order to be able to teach the new program successfully.
I am incredibly excited about the changes, which I think will greatly aid students in their approach to studying for and taking the rigorous set of Diploma exams. First of all, the new Diploma will be more interactive: there will be an online textbook and an extensive library of resources for students to access. The classroom experience will be less lecture-based with more dialogue between educators and students – an opportunity for us all to learn from each other and also to put our understanding into practice.
As educators at Grape Experience, we have always tried to make clear how best to approach the Diploma exams in order to pass them, but it has not always been easy. The key to the Diploma is to apply your knowledge rather than simply state the facts. That hasn’t changed, but WSET now makes that aspect much more explicit.
The Diploma is now logically organized into two approaches. The first two units, D1 and D2, are classed as “foundation units.” As the name suggests, these provide the foundation for the rest of the exams. D1 is focused on wine production – i.e. the vineyard, the winery, and post-fermentation. This used to be assessed by a multiple-choice exam, but now it consists of open-response questions so that students can demonstrate their understanding. This new exam approach should help students better retain and apply viticulture and winemaking knowledge in later units.
D2 is the business of wine, which also consists of open-response questions and no longer has an exam based on a pre-issued case study scenario. Both of these two units must be taken before going into the later units to ensure that students have a foundation of knowledge which they can apply when answering questions about the wines of the world.
The other three units focus on production knowledge. D3 is wines of the world, similar to the current Unit 3, while D4 is sparkling wines and D5 is fortified wines. D3 hasn’t significantly changed, except for one major aspect: WSET’s Global Director of Education Karen Douglas emphasized that students are given more time for both tasting and theory so that the best students have the opportunity to convey their knowledge and understanding. The sparkling and fortified wine exams are now much more in line with D3, in that they have more complete, open-response questions rather than simple statements that “previously invited students to dump their knowledge.”
Finally, students finish their studies with D6, a research paper of 3,000 words focusing on current issues in the world of wine – a natural conclusion from the previous five units.
For students already taking the Diploma, there are some important things to note:
- all previous passes from exams already taken stand: you do not need to retake any exam you have already passed.
- Karen stressed that the WSET has worked intently to make the changes as transitional as possible – taking the new courses and exams will not be an upheaval; in fact, there will be a lot more material and resources to help you pass future exams.
- the online textbook will be available in July. It will contain information you have already studied, but it is worth going to as a resource and for review.
- there is no longer a spirits element to the Diploma. Existing students who have passed the spirits exam are able to earn the Diploma in Wine and Spirits. If you haven’t taken the spirits exam, then you are able to earn the Diploma in Wine.
The work that the WSET education team has put into the new Diploma program is amazing and represents a significant improvement in all aspects of the current course. I anticipate these changes will give the students a much better chance of passing the Diploma while still maintaining its rigorous standards. The WSET have put a great deal of time and effort to create the new Diploma, and I think they have done a superb job.
Look for the new Diploma to be first offered for D1 Winemaking the weekend of August 3-4 in San Francisco and shortly thereafter in Boston.
2019 will mark the start of several new WSET Spirits programs. The renowned education company has created a suite of Spirits only courses focused on today’s drinks business and the trends shaping it. With three Levels (1-3) in Spirits there is a course for everyone. Grape Experience will host a Level 2 Spirits course in San Francisco February 2-3 and you can find out more at https://www.grapeexperience.com/events/spirits-level-2-san-francisco/?doing_wp_cron=1542590186.1309440135955810546875
The interview below with WSET USA’s Spirits Development Manager, Rob McCaughy brings to life how these classes were shaped.
Q&A with Rob McCaughy, WSET USA Business Development Manager – Spirits & Sake
With more than 20 years experience working in the hospitality and beverage industries throughout Europe, Asia and the USA, Rob McCaughy has a wealth of knowledge of the drinks business. In his current role, he is responsible for the continued growth of WSET’s spirits and sake qualifications within the USA. Here we catch up with him for an in-depth look at the WSET’s new Level 3 Spirits course, slated to roll out in 2019.
How does this new course fit into spirits trends today?
Beverage professionals have had access to great objective education in the wine and beer sectors for some time but the spirits segment of the industry has traditionally been dominated by brand-led initiatives. The spirits sector has been on an upward trajectory for many years now and more and more beverage professionals are looking for impartial spirits education to deepen and broaden their knowledge and understanding.
We currently have a spirits module in our Diploma qualification and beyond that our levels 1 & 2 Spirits certifications provide a great entry point. However, there is a gap in the market for an in-depth spirits focused program and we feel that the Level 3 Spirits qualification will fill that void. The spirits module of the Diploma will be removed from August 2019 to coincide with the launch of this course – which we hope will provide the missing link for those who have completed Level 2 Spirits and are looking to progress further.
What spirits are covered?
The content will be split into two sections: depth and breadth.
Section 1/Depth: Students will need to be able to describe in detail the key characteristics of the core global spirits categories as well as understand decisions made at every stage of production, the impact those decisions will have and explain why a spirit has a certain style and quality. In the examination these spirits will be assessed using both multiple choice and short answer questions.
The spirits covered in this section are: Bourbon, Rye Whiskey (US), Tennessee Whiskey, Scotch, Cognac, Armagnac, Caribbean Rum, Tequila, Mezcal, Vodka and Gin.
This is not an attempt by WSET to say these spirits are somehow superior to others. In order to dive deep into the ‘why’ of spirits production we needed to select a small number of spirits in order to make the course manageable. They also needed to be globally accessible and we feel that the selection above achieves this.
Section 2/Breadth: These are the spirits students will only need to know about – the key facts and styles to be assessed using multiple choice. For some, a number of these spirits are personally or professionally important.
The spirits covered are: Irish Whiskey, Canadian Whisky, Japanese Whisky, other whiskies, Grappa, Pisco (Chile and Peru), Brandy de Jerez, South African brandy, European fruit spirits, Sotol, other agave spirits, Cachaça, other rums, Baijiu, Shōchū, Soju, flavored vodka, Genever, spiced rum, flavored whiskey, aquavit, aniseed spirits, liqueurs, bitters and aromatized wines.
What are the differences between the different levels?
All of our qualifications are tiered to develop key competencies in students. Level 1 courses are designed to provide a foundation of knowledge and facts. At Level 2, the student begins to expand upon those foundations and begins to develop a broader understanding and the ability to compare and contrast as well as describe key processes and procedures. For both of these levels a multiple-choice assessment is sufficient to ensure that the key learning outcomes have been met. Once a student reaches Level 3 we begin to develop some of those key critical thinking skills to be able to not only understand and explain the ‘how’ but also the ‘why’. This is difficult if not impossible to assess through multiple-choice testing so short answer theory questions are required to show that these skills have been acquired.
What sort of trade is WSET Spirits geared towards: retailers, bartenders, enthusiasts?
There is a course for everyone, whether an enthusiast just looking for a framework to underpin their enjoyment, someone just starting their journey in the spirits business, or an industry veteran. By focusing on developing core competencies and skills in the student rather than solely concentrating on product knowledge and rote learning, our courses are designed to give students not only a level of understanding but also the confidence to make qualitative assessments.
If you’re a distiller, is this a course you should take?
With the proliferation of craft distilleries emerging in recent years there has never been a greater need for courses that will not only provide an understanding of the benchmark expressions within a category but also the tasting skills necessary to make qualitative assessments. We have had a great response from the distilling community and I certainly see our Level 3 course has been a valuable tool for any serious distiller. Most professionals tend to live in a particular bubble or lane, focusing on one particular category. By providing an understanding of processes involved across all categories our Level 3 course provides opportunities for distillers to tweak and hone their best practices as well as to innovate.
Does it cover cocktails? Is it more production or service based?
One of our learning outcomes for Level 2 is an understanding of how spirits are best served and cocktail applications as well as the key considerations when making a balanced cocktail.
At Level 3 we are really focusing on four key competencies:
1) Develop detailed knowledge of the spirits of the world
2) Provide accurate descriptions of complex processes
3) Ability to explain why certain processes are required and how they affect a spirit’s style and quality
4) Ability to reasonably and confidently assess the quality level of a spirit
Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most popular white wine varietals, especially since New Zealand producers started exporting their crisp fruit driven styles in the late 1980s. American Sauvignon Blancs are often labeled “Fume Blanc.” This branding was started by Robert Mondavi, who in a reference to the Smoky Pouilly-Fume Sauvignon of the Loire, added oak to his wines. These days, however, the name “Fume Blanc” can be used as a label for any Sauvignon Blanc wine – whether it sees oak or not.
I would guess that most people who love Sauvignon Blanc prefer the crisp, pure fruit driven style. Oak often can get in the way of the delicate aromas. Concours Mondial de Sauvignon decided to explore how, if at all to use oak in this varietal wine and their findings make for interesting reading: http://cmsauvignon.com/en/are-sauvignon-aromas-incompatible-with-oak/
This article is great reading for anyone interested in the science of winemaking. WSET Level 3 and Diploma students in particular should take a look as well.
In my wine tasting journeys I have found that most oaked Sauvignon suffers from too heavy a hand. There are some incredible Dagueneau wines that see a touch of oak from Pouilly-Fume. Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc from Napa – of course along with Mondavi Fume Blanc – show the American style of oaked Sauvignon at its best and are worth sampling.
Grape Experience sake expert Marina Giordano’s passion for the Japanese beverage has led her to travel extensively in Japan, studying production in multiple regions with officials of the National Brewery Council. She is a WSET Certified Sake Educator and has earned the Advanced Sake Professional title with the Sake Education Council. She now shares her knowledge for those looking to broaden their understanding of this fascinating (and growing) category.
What first led you to explore Sake?
I was studying wine (the WSET Level 2) when a friend introduced me to sake. I fell in love – I had to learn everything I could about it. I was infatuated with the subtle aromas and flavors. The complexity intrigued me, how could sake taste this way? It’s not even a fruit! I started looking for classes that night.
What has been the highlights of your sake career?
Most of it has been traveling: traveling to Japan to study more about sake and traveling to teach classes and introduce people to sake who had never tasted it before. Maybe even more exciting is seeing the interest in sake grow around the USA. More people are drinking it, asking for it, and sake is appearing on more menus. It still has a long way to go, but it is exciting to see it becoming more popular!
What led you to become a WSET certified sake educator?
The love of teaching. I enjoying helping people to understand something new, whether it is a professional who will take that knowledge to their workplace, or an enthusiast who wants to learn more about sake. It’s great to have students come out of class with a new appreciation (an even a love) for sake.
How does the WSET program compare with other sake programs you have taken?
I think the WSET Sake program is the most comprehensive sake program available. It is created and presented in a clear yet detailed manner. It makes a complicated subject easy to understand. The program is structured so that your knowledge builds as you go into the specifics of production – going in depth about ingredients, production methods, and styles. There are many misconceptions about what sake is. With information from this class, students will get a better understanding of what sake is and how it is produced.
Who is the WSET Sake geared towards?
Both professionals and consumers. Level 1 is great for sales staff who may have sake in their store, bar, or portfolio, or consumers who want more knowledge about what they are drinking and to know what to buy. Level 3 is more in depth in all aspects of sake, but enthusiasts love the course. It is also great for professionals who would like to get a better understanding of sake.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about WSET Sake but wonders if they really need or will use it?
For someone in the industry, these classes will build your confidence and comfort level with sake. It’s a growing segment and any knowledge can be helpful. Consumers will come out with a better understanding of sake, to help them easily select sake off the shelf or list, or they may even discover sake styles they didn’t know existed!
The WSET Diploma Certificate (Level 4) is one of the most recognized and valuable credentials in the wine world. This challenging two-year program offers people who already have strong wine knowledge, the opportunity to go to an elite level. The program will be significantly revised in 2019 but if you are thinking about Diploma, now is the time to start (https://www.grapeexperience.com/wset-diploma-san-francisco/). Here’s why:
- Diploma isn’t a static course, but a dynamic set of focused “units” that are constantly updated to reflect today’s trends and issues facing the wine and spirits industry.The changes that go into effect in August 2019 are just a more comprehensive continuation of updates that happen every year to reflect new underlying forces shaping the wine market.
- Diploma candidates learn through personal exploration – not through a set textbook. To do well in Diploma students need to follow their own curiosity, explore producer and regional web sites and venture out into the field – be it a winery, distillery or retail business visit. This learning method, with WSET giving students an outline of what they need to know, is what makes Diploma so relevant and fun, and it will continue to be a guiding principal of Diploma for years to come.
- The current Diploma program offers candidates a chance to explore the spirits industry alongside wine. In the program that will take effect summer 2019, spirits will be eliminated. If you want the Diploma in Wine and Spirits you must start this summer. Conversely, if you want to start this summer but don’t want to take the spirits unit that is a definite option.
- Grape Experience has been delivering the current Diploma program for over 12 years – the longest running US provider west of the Mississippi and recognized with an Educator of the Year award. We understand what it takes to succeed in today’s Diploma program and we offer individualized personal coaching backed by hundreds of successful candidates who achieved their Diploma studying with Grape Experience.
- Candidates who start Diploma now will be in no way disadvantaged when the revised Diploma in Wine program comes into effect. Anything you pass before August 2019 will be credited towards the new Diploma and there will be no additional requirements added – Diploma has 6 units you need to pass today and there will remain 6 in the future.
WSET Diploma is an exceptional learning opportunity that allows you to interact with people from all over the wine world. It is a chance to develop superior analytical skills while also making contacts and developing friendships that will last a lifetime. The knowledge, confidence and personal growth that Diploma offers is invaluable.
Take advantage of starting the program this August. You can find out more at https://www.grapeexperience.com/wset-diploma-san-francisco/or feel free to contact me, Adam Chase at email@example.com by calling 415-309-0761. I would really enjoy discussing the opportunity that lies ahead for you!