California Kings: Why Cabernet Sauvignon Reigns in California

California Kings: Why Cabernet Sauvignon Reigns in California

When it comes to California wine, the state has a wide selection of well-cultivated grapes. There is no doubt that one of the beautiful parts of the California wine industry is that there are world famous examples in this one state of just as many grapes as the entire country of France. Do you want a well balanced Pinot Noir with haunting aromas and elegant flavors? They have it. Do you want a Syrah exploding with flavors of stewed fruits, pungent herbs, and tingly spices? They have that too. How about a Zinfandel? California is basically the only place to find it, so much so that at one point it was thought to be indigenous… But when it comes to production (and perhaps popularity), the King of all red grapes in California is Cabernet Sauvignon.


It’s true that Chardonnay is Queen in California. As far as wine grapes go, Chardonnay is the most planted variety at 29% but Cabernet Sauvignon follows right behind at 22%. Alternatively, Cabernet Sauvignon takes the cake as the world’s most widely planted wine grape. So what is it about Cabernet Sauvignon that is so popular, particularly in California? One answer is that Cabernet Sauvignon is a hearty grape that can withstand intense heat, ripens late (so it rarely gets burned and the ripeness can be controlled), and can thrive well in dry soils that would be considered “less-than-ideal” by farmers of other crops. That said, it’s not a cheap grape to plant and it’s not a cheap wine to make. So the popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon among vintners is not strictly driven by its resilience. The fact is people love it. Across the world it’s a “go-to” wine for many people whether it’s the inexpensive, bulk production examples or the top-tier, expensive, high quality wines of the world. It’s safe to say that the flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon are simply something that most people enjoy.


So, what are the aromas and flavors that make Cabernet so popular? Well, the both disappointing and true answer is this: It depends on the region. But generally, Cabernet can be described as full bodied wine which expresses rich flavors of dark fruit, sometimes accompanied by red fruits, and accented by light aromas of dried herbs. You should also expect integrated flavors of baking spices, vanilla, chocolate, coffee, cocoa, and tobacco. These flavors come from oak maturation. In a cooler location or from a cooler vintage, you can expect these flavors to be less rich but balanced with higher acidity and lower alcohol compared to hot and dry locations or warm vintages. In the end, you can see that Cabernet expresses flavors that are highly attractive not only to seasoned wine professionals but the casual wine drinker. as well.

Cabernet in California

Looping back to the California wine industry, you might assume that the 22% production makes a lot of sense given all the virtues of Cabernet Sauvignon. But that isn’t the only reason that Cabernet rules California’s red wine industry. If anyone has ever seen the movie “Bottle Shock” you may recall the famous 1976 Paris blind tasting, the film’s central topic. French wines were tasted side-by-side with California wines. The movie focuses upon the white wines (Chardonnay) at the tasting, leaving out a key fact: California took first place not only in the white wine category, but a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was King of reds, beating out all the famous chateaux of Bordeaux. If there wasn’t sufficient evidence before that tasting, there has been no doubt since then that California produces world class Cabernet Sauvignon. Even more of a reason to pick up our selections by Hawkes Wine and Jax Vineyards for next week’s tastings.

The grape itself isn’t the only reason Cabernet Sauvignon from California is popular; the terrior of California showcases the best of what Cabernet has to offer. There are a few features about California that makes it so suitable for Cabernet. Looping back, the movie “Bottle Shock” is also relevant here. There is a great line which can go unnoticed if you aren’t paying close attention. The vintner Jim Barrett’s character is waxing poetically about California vineyards when he says something that is right on the money:

“The soil here is volcanic and alluvial. We can control the irrigation and water retention in these soils easily. We keep them dry to produce a hearty grape. A well watered vine produces a small lazy grape that produces a lazy wine.”cabernet sauvignon grapes


This is a great summary of the sub regions where California Cabernet is planted. The key word here is dry. It’s not just the soil but also the climate. All of the regions where Cabernet is grown in California are considered to have a Mediterranean Climate. That means that it is not only hot but that the rainfall mainly occurs during the non-growing season. The growing season for wine grapes in most of California is long and dry. Cabernet Sauvignon grown in these conditions ripens for a very long time. This means the extraction and subsequent marination of flavor compounds from the skins occurring both inside the grapes and after harvest is longer. This results in more concentrated and integrated flavors from both the skin and the pulp of the grape. Think of it like marinating a piece of steak. The longer the steak sits in the marinade the more integrated into the meat the flavors become. On that note, you should absolutely pick up both wines by Hawkes Wine and Jax Vineyards and pair them with some steak after The Crafty Cask’s virtual tasting on Thursday June 18th. Cabernet Sauvignon and steak is a classic pairing and California Cabernets are some of the best wines for it. We prefer Ribeye!

You can generally expect California Cabernet’s lush black and blue fruit flavors with a silky or velvety mouthfeel and a rich long finish of vanilla, mocha, sweet tobacco, and baking spices. The flavors make the wine a meal in itself. Leading up to the event on Thursday, tasting notes for these wines will be provided and go into further detail on the flavors of California wine using these wines as a medium for exploration. Grab a the featured 2-pack of Hawkes Wine and Jax Vineyards so you engage with the notes as well as the tasting. It’s a wonderful opportunity to deeper explore the varietal that is California’s King of the red wines. See you Thursday!



3 winegrowing regions, 28,000 wineries, 52 varieties of grapevine, 2 million people, one, incredible, wine tour

Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or someone who enjoys the odd droplet with their meal, a visit to Slovenia may quickly transform you from the latter into the former. Why? Because wine in this country is just so good.


Provenly the best way to try the exquisite flavours of Slovenian wine while getting to know the land and the people who make it is by joining a wine tour. It’s a first-hand experience that will introduce you to this country’s ancient, rich and highly respected winemaking tradition.

If you wanted to explore Slovenia’s numerous wine trails, you would have to take a year off just for travelling around its multitude of vineyards and wine cellars. It might be a small country, but its viticultural heritage is just so vast and complex. By joining a wine tour, you can get a glimpse into our world of wine and taste an assortment of top-class products in one amazing trip.


Climate, soil, and tradition. These are the main ingredients for top quality wine. Slovenia has all three. The history of viticulture in this place stretches all the way back to the 5th century BC, when Celtic tribes first began cultivating wine, long before any major European winegrowing regions. Today, the tradition of winemaking is stronger than ever. All thanks to Slovenia’s unique geographical diversity, providing a perfect mixture of microclimates that give life to 52 varieties of grapevine.

Although its population is only two million strong, Slovenia is home to 28,000 wineries, which translates to 1 vineyard per 70 inhabitants. Talk about a national hobby. Out of the annual production in excess of 80 million litres, 6 million litres of wine are exported, the rest is consumed locally. And who can blame them, since most of the country’s wine is of high quality. One more reason to come over and taste it for yourselves.


Do you know how many incredible stories get told over a glass of fine wine? Of course not. Nobody does. There’s simply too many. Drinking wine is a social activity best enjoyed with some authentic local cuisine with other jolly wine tourers. When your company also includes local experts and a sommelier guide, you’re in for a very educational and fun time indeed.

Boutique winemakers, whose winemaking skills have been passed down through generations, will gladly share a few insider anecdotes, background stories, history of the land, and show you the ins and outs of their winemaking processes. These are the bonus features of our wine tour that you won’t get in any travel guide. Witty wine cellar wisdom included. It’s an interactive experience that takes place in Slovenia’s breath-takingly beautiful Vipava Valley, home to some of the world’s best wines.

Take a walk through the vineyards, soak up the natural splendour that surrounds you, and treat yourself to Slovenia’s most precious beverage. Life is good, so hop on a wine tour and make it even better.



Support the Glancy Wine Education Scholarship Fund (GWEF)

Grape Experience is a proud supporter of San Francisco Wine School’s Glancy Wine Education Scholarship Fund(GWEF), which provides scholarships to low income students looking to start or advance a career in wine or hospitality. Next month is the foundation’s 2019 Luxury Wine Anniversary and Scholarship Auction event on November 2 – an evening of of great wine, food, a hilarious Somm Smackdown, and auction of incredible items and experiences, all benefiting the GWEF.

In anticipation of the event, we sat down with David Glancy MS, Founder and CEO of San Francisco Wine School and of the GWEF, to find out more about his passion for wine and education. 

Q: What inspired you to enter the wine industry?

A: My love of food got me into restaurants at age 15, washing dishes, bussing tables and then working as a prep cook and baker by 16. I majored in Hotel & Restaurant Management at Michigan State and transitioned into hotel front desk management and eventually back into restaurants on the dining room management side. My passion for wine exploded when I sold a lot of wine managing a restaurant in Macau China. After returning to the US and managing a night club and American, French and Italian restaurants I realized my favorite part of the job was managing the wine programs, selling wine to customers and training the staff.

Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching wine?

A: I love when I can see someone’s passion for wine, food and travel really take off. It is especially gratifying when they blossom into professionals whether opening wine bars, launching their career in restaurants, taking off to work harvest across the world, traveling to multiple wine regions, winning competitions, earning credentials and especially when I get to see them expressing their passions with others.

Q: Why do you think wine educational courses are useful?

A: Classes and credentials are not the only way to learn and move up in the industry but the structure of many certification programs shows students a path to what to learn and how. The journey of studying, tasting and passing exams gives students the courage to pursue new challenges. And the credentials themselves open the doors for many professional opportunities. The credentials also help employers evaluate what potential employees know. As people continue in their careers pursuing more credentials, along with tasting, traveling and working in the wine trenches are all ways pros challenge themselves, grow and continuously improve.

Q: Do you have any educational resources you’d recommend to students? (i.e. books, websites)?

A: I have always considered Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course to be the best starting point. Madeline Puckett does a great job making wine easy to understand on Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible and everything ever written by Jancis Robinson are great for taking wine studies to the next level. Society of Wine Educator’s blog, and are great ways to stay up-to-date.

Q: What’s your desert island wine?

A: CHAMPAGNE, fool, and lots of it. And I’ll need an oyster knife.2017_SF_Wine_School-2275

Hope to see you in November! Special Early Bird pricing of $295 is available now through October 15.

Traveling through Vineyards of Eastern France

Traveling through Vineyards of Eastern France

There is no better way to learn about wines than to travel the vineyards where the grapes are grown.  Photos in books and videos are great, but they are framed to give the best view and evoke a desired image. As a wine educator, being “on the ground” makes me see things in a new way and makes me a better teacher.  This past June I spent two weeks traveling from Chablis in the north, through Burgundy and then down the Rhone into Provence. My random thoughts are below. WSET students will get more details n classes starting next month.


Chablis is a little “off the beaten track” if you are visiting Burgundy, but it is worth the detour.  The village itself is incredibly pretty with classic French architecture, the peaceful Serein River running through the town, and the vineyards a two-minute walk from the town center.  The Vineyards here are so close to the working town center that they actually almost “grip” one end of Chablis center.  You realize the amount of vineyard land is not huge. Grand Cru hill sites quickly curve and slope into Premier Cru and basic vineyards.  Luckily there is an easy to read map that identifies each site. The map sits at the foot of the small street that separates the agricultural area from the central part of town.

If you visit Chablis a stop at the tasting room of William Fèvre is a good idea.  The wines are terrific and you can see large samples of the Kimmeridgean Clay soils, with their tiny fossilized sea creatures clearly visible, as well as Portlandian Clay, which is much different.  A great place for lunch is Les Trois Bourgeons.  This classic French restaurant is run by a Japanese couple and the food is fantastic!

Cote de Nuits

When you are anywhere in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or you really feel how the vineyards hug the eastern Massif Central. One commune flows into another. As you travel the main N74 road, the vineyards are a constant companion a stone’s throw to the west.  What is even more surprising is how close these world-famous expensive vineyards are to the big city of Dijon.  Essentially, they are southern suburbs of Dijon, and as you drive first through Marsannay and then Fixin and Gevrey-Chambertin you feel like you are traversing two worlds: behind you is the big city, to the west magnificent pastoral vineyards and to your east a suburban landscape with bowling alleys, car dealerships, KFC and pizza places and hotels. A little jarring but it shows that these are working grape farms rather than ethereal landscapes.

As you drive into the vineyards themselves thick vine density comes off the page and into reality.  Driving paths are narrow and vineyard land is maximized.  Books point to this fact, but to see it and navigate it as you pass from one great site to another really brings it to life.

Cote de Beaune

The villages of the Cote de Beaune can be described with one word: “charming.” Meursault, in particular, is quaint and beautiful with its central square, fountain and winding paths to vineyards.  I recommend grabbing a morning coffee there and just people watching or day dreaming.

The vineyards in this area seem designed to encourage you to take long lingering walks. Vines are easily accessible and a two-minute walk from any part of a town.  One of the things that you realize when you are among the vines is how easy it is to have one foot in a Grand Crus site and the other in a more basic site. The Grand Cru and Premier Cru sites are also much less steep when you are among the vines than when you see them on a map. Always at your feet is the classic clay and limestone soils.

Beaune itself is an easily navigable small city with the eastern vineyards watching over it as a protector.  The tile designs on the roofs of the Hospices de Beaune gleam in the sun and make this part of Burgundy unique. One realizes immediately that you are in a city of business with large buildings with famous names like Louis Jadot and Joseph Drouhin around you but blending in to the classic city architecture.  The restaurant that seems to be among the most popular is Ma Cuisine and I would agree – amazing food and a terrific wine list.

Cote Rotie and the Rhone

As with the Cote de Nuit flowing out of Dijon, the Cote Rotie vineyards almost touch the outskirts of the city of Lyon.  Standing in the tiny town of Ampuis, the height and steepness of the slopes of these vineyards seems even more staggering than photos.  You can see how hard they are to work and how the staked vines create a unique pattern on the steep slopes.

The Rhone is a working river and the peaks and valleys of its northern hills look down upon a waterway that is far more industrial than a wine book can show. It is easy to grasp why one hill is planted and another is not based on angle to the sun and reflection from the river.

As you drive south the hills become less steep but don’t entirely go away. Yes, the Southern Rhone vineyards are more spread out and the not as cliff-like as the north, but they are not completely flat either.  Vines live next to vibrant fields of lavender and other crops. Wind breaks from trees are evident as a protection from the Mistral. Driving into Chateauneuf-du-Pape the galet soils create a rocky landscape that reflects the sun and adds brightness to the sun light.  Stop by Vieux Telegraphe for a tasting of their amazing wines and then walk the vineyards which give a great view of the surrounding region.

Bandol and Cassis

The vineyards in Provence live easily among coastal towns and internal cities. The Alps gently extends to the sea here and creates a dramatic landscape which inspired painters like Cezanne and Van Gough.  Driving the coast from Cassis through Bandol is a great way to get a feel for the area and its vines, but to really see the area you need to go up and inland. Bandol AOC is actually made up of towns, including Bandol itself.  Mourvedre vines thrive in the damp soil and hot air.

Domaine Tempier is the place to go first to taste. It is in the village of Les Castellet and really led the change to fine modern winemaking in the area.  Véronique Peyraud, daughter of founders Lucien Peyraud and Lucie Tempier is a terrific host and the wines are worth the accolades they continually receive.

Hopefully my thoughts have prompted you to visit the area – or even better, take a WSET class and then visit.  You will be armed with information that will make the trip even better!

The Awesome New WSET Diploma in Wine starts August 3

Q&A with Grape Experience educator and DipWSET Matthew Gaughan on why the WSET Diploma is a must for wine trade professionals.

What were you doing when you started the Diploma and where are you now?

I started the Diploma in Manchester in the UK when I was working for Hangingditch Wine Merchants, an independent wine shop and bar. Later that year, I moved to California and finished the Diploma with Grape Experience in San Francisco. Taking the Diploma in two different countries opened me up to varied wine cultures and approaches to selling and drinking wine. Now I teach WSET for Grape Experience – it’s been quite a journey from student to educator.

How has the Diploma impacted your professional career?

In a very literal sense, I know so much more about wine than when I started the Diploma. That means I can speak to students and customers at the wine shop I work with authority – that builds up respect and trust. I can also apply that wine to so many aspects of my career in wine – buying wine, writing about wine, educating, and even when I travel. If I hadn’t taken the Diploma, it really would have limited my possibilities in the wine industry – and my enjoyment of working in it.

What would you say to individuals who are considering taking on the course? Any words of advice?

My advice is always: make sure you give yourself enough time to study and don’t get side-tracked by tasting. The theory is more difficult. I’ve actually set up a podcast, Matthew’s World of Wine and Drink, with episodes specifically designed to address theory topics that many of my students have found helpful. Diploma is all about demonstrating your understanding of the subject – if you can explain a topic to friends, family, or colleagues, then you will be able to do it in an exam no problem. Practice, practice, practice.

Are you excited about the changes to the Diploma?

The new Diploma is really going to help students get the most out of the course. What’s expected of students is much clearer – that it’s not just about the “what,” it’s about applying and explaining your knowledge. I’m looking forward to teaching it in August and seeing how it works in practice. I think students and educators alike are going to benefit greatly from the changes.

If you have passed your WSET Level 3 Wine and would like to embark on the new Diploma in Wine don’t wait.  The new materials are available now and the first section, “Wine Production,” meets August 3-4 in San Francisco.  You want to have time to read the incredible new Diploma textbook before class.  Register at this link:

The New Level 2 Wine Certificate – What’s Changed

This fall WSET and Grape Experience will debut the new WSET Level 2 Certificate in Wine.  It starts September 10 in San Francisco and September 18 in Boston.  Registration information is at

The following interview details the great changes in the program

Q. What is different about the new Level 2 Certificate in Wine?

A. Just about everything.The course that will start on September 10 is still designed to enable someone to look at just about any major wine label and be able to describe what that wine is like and why, but the number of grape varieties have been dramatically expanded. Varieties such as Barbera, Gamay, Semillon and Viognier are now part of the course. We will cover the classic wine regions – Burgundy, Bordeaux, etc., but also add more emphasis on newer regions in countries like Australia, the USA and Chile. The new approach gives a Level 2 student a broader set of wines to explore and makes the course that much more relevant to today’s wine industry.  There is also a new textbook and class workbook as part of a complete WSET proprietary study pack.

Q. Are the class sessions themselves much different for the old course?

A. Yes, classes are more interactive than ever before, which better enables students to build off of previous sessions and what they have read on their own. There is a greater emphasis on why a wine tastes the way it does and how the same grape can make uniquely individual wines in different regions. Of course, we still taste several wines in each session but when we do so we are better equipped to taste both natural climactic factors and the human choices that went into each wine.  The end result is greater knowledge put into practice, building confidence among students.

Q. Spirits is no longer part of the Level 2 course?

A. Spirits has been removed from Level 2 Wine and is now taught as a separate Level 2 Spirits course.This change means we can cover more material in the Level 2 Wine course in the same amount of time. In some ways, Spirits in the old Level 2 course was an afterthought.  Now, in the Level 2 Spirits course, the subject gets the broader and more in-depth focus it deserves.  We will offer Level 2 Spirits this fall, and it can easily be taken in conjunction with Level 2 Wine.

Q. Who is the right student for Level 2 Wine?

A. Level 2 Wine is for just about anyone.The course is designed for both beginners and people who already have some knowledge in wine but want a stronger foundation.  We don’t assume for Level 2 that a student has any previous knowledge.  For the genuine beginner, the course will build a solid foundation for a career in wine or will just increase personal knowledge.  For someone who has a working knowledge already, Level 2 fills in any gaps and provides a solid launching pad for learning more.  The end result for all students taking Level 2 is increased confidence and greater overall enjoyment of wine.

Q. What is the final exam like?

A. The exam remains the same as before: a one hour, 50-question multiple choice exam. Students need to correctly answer 55% of the questions – about 28 of them – to pass and receive the WSET Level 2 Certificate in Wine.

For the September 10 San Francisco course register here:

For Level 2 Spirits register here:

For the September 18 Boston course register here:

Why You Should Take a Wine Class this Spring or Summer

You’ve been thinking about taking a wine course for some time, but for whatever reason you’ve been putting it off.  Well now is the best time of the year to take a wine class. Here’s why:


  1. It’s spring, the time of year for outdoor parties, picnics and outings and knowing something about wines makes all of these activities better. Advancing your wine knowledge gives you an opportunity to take an ordinary event and add something special.  You’ll be able to introduce friends to wines like Gavi, Bandol, Tavel, Rueda or Zweigelt with the confidence of knowing that the particular lesser known varietal or place is absolutely perfect for the warmer weather occasion.


  1. Spring is a season of new beginnings, a time to challenge yourself and learn something different. Wine is a great subject around which to build new skills and knowledge. Moreover, its wine – not rocket science or economics!  You can choose to go as deep or as broad as you like in the subject without thinking you have to master the entire world of wine.  And you get to incorporate science and history into the study of wine while giving your taste buds new sensations.


  1. If you work in the industry or want to get into a wine business, a class will fill in missing bricks in your knowledge foundation at a time when consumers are looking for something different to drink. You can speak with more confidence and authority about new styles and places and help other people break out of traditional wine habits.


  1. It’s fun! A good wine class is entertaining and involves group discussion and, of course, tasting. The social aspect alone exposes you to new people and ideas.

So which class is right for you? Grape Experience suggests WSET Level 1 or Level 2 in wine.  Both are beginner classes, with Level 2 going into a little more depth than Level 1.  These are generalist, structured classes geared to give participants an engaging way to build wine knowledge.

We have WSET Level 1 and Level 2 starting this June on weekends in the Bay Area.  You can see the schedule and enrollment links here:

So, go ahead and take the plunge.  Sign up for any wine course that seems like a good fit for you.  It will make your spring and summer incredibly memorable.

So You Want to Become A Wine Educator

People constantly ask me how they can become a wine educator (often hoping to teach WSET courses).  My first response is to ask, “why do you want to teach?” The answers fall into five categories:

  1. I want to share what I know with others
  2. I think it is the logical thing to do once I get my certification, isn’t it?
  3. I think it would be fun
  4. Umm….
  5. I want to help other people grow their wine knowledge, be more confident and have more enjoyment with wine

Answers 1-4 always make me suspicious.  Often, people get a certificate and just want to announce to others that they have achieved something special.  These people are often the worst teachers because they pontificate rather than coach and support students.

Teaching can be fun, but it is also hard work that involves preparation, patience and consistent re-evaluation for continuous improvement. The goal is to help other people learn and grow in a way that builds knowledge, skills and the confidence to use them. Rarely is this just telling a student what they should know but rather helping them tell you what they have learned.

A good teacher balances being an entertainer, manager and knowledge sharer.  Some people are natural teachers who inspire other people to want to know more, while also keeping a class on topic and on time.  They can easily read individuals in the classroom and what their learning needs are.  For other people developing good teaching skills takes more work. While still others probably are just not suited for teaching – even if they know a lot about wine (by the way, there is no shame in this, as wine knowledge and teaching ability are unrelated).

If you do think you might like to be a wine educator there are some steps, you can take to build your skills and see if you are suited to the role.  I suggest starting small with the process here:

  1. Teach Others Informally

Start by hosting a fun in-home wine tasting party. Pick 3-5 wines you like and create a plan on what you want to tell your friends about them.  Think about what they might want to know and what their mood and mind set will be (likely to have fun, learn something without being overwhelmed and to enjoy each other’s company).  What nuggets of information can you give them that they will be able to see when they taste the wine and then use in the future? Then ask for honest feedback – what did they like, what did they think you could have done better? Also, be kind to yourself.  You will be nervous and that is OK.  Try to do these wine tasting events regularly until you feel you and your audienceis really enjoying them.

  1. Ask to Train Other People at Work

Regardless of whether you work in the wine industry, look for opportunities to train co-workers, new hires or educate customers in whatever you do.  Create session plans for formal training and find means to gauge whether your audience was engaged and learned.  For consumers, think about how you build a relationship.  For any person you want to get good at empathizing, understanding their needs and ability to understand new information.

  1. Teach a Fun Consumer Wine Course

Think about a one-night short wine class that you might enjoy teaching – but more importantly, that you think individuals might sign up for.  Plan out how the session would go down to the minute (build in time for extended tasting).  Then seek out an adult education center and propose it to them.  Have a budget for the wine and be prepared at first to possibly offer your time for free.  Once you have a scheduled course, teach it first to a few friends or family so you can get the timing down and work out kinks that didn’t show up on paper.  Think about teachers you enjoyed learning from. What did they do?  Can you emulate their approach in any way? Keep teaching these classes and get and be open to feedback – It is the only way you can improve.

  1. Co-Teach a WSET or Other Certification Class

When you feel that you have developed good teaching skills – that students are engaged by your style, that you can control a room and manage time and that participants are actively learning from you – ask a WSET APP or other wine certification program if you can teach part of an entry level course.  When the opportunity arrives do your homework.  Ask about the class dynamic, the classroom and review the session plan with whoever you are sharing the class with.  Then practice at home before the actual session.  After the class, think about what went well and what did not.  Then speak honestly with your co-teacher and express what you felt and really listen to what they thought.

Be honest with yourself about both your skills and your enjoyment level when teaching.  If you don’t really love doing it, your class/audience won’t be engaged or happy either.  You may find that the fun non-certification classes are more what you like doing.  You might find the whole process is just not for you.  Or you may find that you can inspire other people in a way that makes both you and them really happy!

New WSET Diploma in Wines Starts August 3

New WSET Diploma in Wines Starts August 3

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.

WSET New Spirits Classes

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

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 & Oak

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:

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.