In light of our exciting news regarding the merger between Grape Experience’s East Coast WSET operations and Commonwealth Wine School (CWS) in Cambridge, MA, we caught up with CWS founder and director Jessica Sculley. In this interview, we learn about Jessica’s extensive background in education and how she’s applied it, coupled with an innovative approach, in building one of the Greater Boston Area’s leading wine schools.
You founded Commonwealth Wine School after a long career as a math and science teacher. What made you transition to the wine world?
Although wine was always on the table when I was growing up—pretty typical for an Italian family—I wasn’t hooked until the age of 17, when I visited a friend in Montalcino in Tuscany (the legal drinking age then was 16 in Italy). I was completely entranced. Maybe it was the old farmhouse on the Tuscan hillside, and the delicious food, but the wine brought out flavors (and no doubt some intoxication) that I hadn’t expected. I wanted to learn more.
After college and grad school I began my career as a math and science teacher, tasting good wines when I could, reading a bit here and there, but otherwise unable to find the time or the funds to study wine more intensively. I found the first WSET Level 1 course ever to be offered in Pittsburgh at a local wine shop and completed the rest of the WSET wine certifications with Grape Experience. I then left the classroom and began teaching classes for Grape Experience.
In fall 2019, the time seemed right to join the spectacular educators and renowned schools for wine education in one place. With the support of fellow educators, I signed the lease on our Harvard Square location in February 2020.
How did you adapt your approach as an educator to WSET courses? How did you develop your wine skills?
Though teaching math and teaching about wine may seem unrelated, they’re not. In all areas of education, it’s necessary to engage students so that they have a stake in the subject they are learning about—it’s not just about exam results.
As teachers we have options: we can present information and tell students to memorize it or we can lay the groundwork of understanding by presenting information, encouraging active participation, problem solving, and interacting with each other as well as with the subject. The WSET curriculum is well suited to this kind of educational structure.
My own wine skills were developed slowly, and are still being developed! When I was focused on training my palate early on, I would go into the grocery store and stick my nose into every bit of produce, and into the bulk spice racks (of course we can’t do this now). I’d make flash cards for myself when I needed to remember facts or figures that wouldn’t register any other way. But the most important thing that I did, and that I still do, is teach. I think that teaching is one of the best ways to learn anything. There’s nothing like researching, organizing and gathering thoughts to create a presentable story to other people to help you learn a topic.
Commonwealth Wine School’s faculty and staff consist of an impressive list of highly respected wine professionals. In your view, what are the traits that make for great WSET educators?
I feel so grateful to be part of the incredible group of scholars and educators that we have at Commonwealth Wine School. As I mentioned before, it’s not enough to just know the material to be a great WSET educator, you have to be able to explain something from several different perspectives. You must ask students questions that allow them to make their own connections and build their own knowledge base. Above all it’s important to create a safe learning environment where everyone feels comfortable asking questions and sharing their thoughts.
The pandemic has required that schools all over the world change how they deliver curriculum to their students. What are some ways that CWS has done this? What has worked and what hasn’t?
The most obvious change was going virtual during the initial stages of the pandemic through Zoom courses. When we finally opened our doors in Harvard Square, we invested in a SWIVL robot in order to teach concurrently in person and virtually. This allows us to present a live class to a group in our classroom, while also allowing students to tune in from home and participate interactively with the class. This is a technology that we are still perfecting since it’s clear the hybrid learning format is here to stay.
Then there’s tasting together – a really important part of wine education. Last October we began creating sample tasting kits for students to pick up and taste along at home. Now we work with a certified wine shipper to deliver these sample kits to students around the country to taste along with classes. Creating these kits are time consuming and expensive, and ensuring they stay fresh and ship well has taken a lot of experimentation. Still, they offer a solution for when we’re not able to taste together in person.
In the classroom, we ask everyone to wear masks while not actively tasting. All of our faculty and students must now also be fully vaccinated. My main goal is to keep everyone healthy and we will continue operating in a way that is in the best interest of public health, whatever that may be.
I’m sure we will see more e-learning modules, which we will be rolling out this fall. These will be for students who want to learn about wine, but have to do it on their own schedule. Stay tuned!
If you had to pick wines from only wine region to take to a desert island, which one?
In the end, I really am a devotee of Burgundian wines … I think that the Chardonnays and the Pinot Noirs from this little slice of France will suit me fine (assuming I’ve got good producers and vintages with me!). If I’m lucky, I’ll have some Crémant de Bourgogne to celebrate when I’m rescued.
It’s official, Grape Experience is now offering in-person classes in both Boston and San Francisco (check out the website to see upcoming courses and enrollment deadlines). Since it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other face to face, we decided to catch up with a few of Grape Experience’s instructors and reintroduce them to our wine-loving community. First up is WSET Certified Educator Matthew Gaughan, who has helped us kick off our in-person classes.
Rest assured, we are taking every precaution to guarantee the safety and well-being of students and educators. We hope to see you at a class soon; meanwhile, read below to learn more about Matthew:
What brought you into the wine industry?
I’ve always enjoyed drinking wine, but it was more for pleasure until I started asking myself why I liked one wine more than another or what the difference was between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. So, I took an introductory wine course, then the WSET levels 1 and 2. As I became more and more fascinated by the world of wine, I thought I should my learning to use and got a part-time job at hangingditch wine merchants in Manchester and I’ve never looked back.
What is it that fascinates you about wine?
Wine is a window into so many varied corners of the world: biology, chemistry, geology, history, literature, trade, business, retail. (If wine had been part of our science classes at school I would have done a lot better…). And, of course, wine is social—I’ve met so many amazing people around the world because of wine.
Tell us about your education background.
I first started teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) in Dublin after I finished my Master’s degree. Then I moved to Madrid to teach there before moving back to the UK to do my PhD in English Literature at York, where I also taught undergraduates. When I moved into the wine industry, it was natural for me to study wine and teach about what I had learned.
Why should students take WSET courses?
Whether you’re in the trade or not, if you have a genuine enthusiasm for wine then WSET courses are clear, concise learning tools to gain knowledge about wine—and you take that knowledge with into your everyday social conversations or into your job. For some people, Level 2 is as much knowledge as they want or need; for others (like me) the WSET can take you further with the all-encompassing Diploma. Another reason to take the courses is that you can meet some awesome people who have lots of stories to tell.
And what do you do when not teaching for Grape Experience?
I’ve started an online wine club called blackpoolmatt’s wine club—Eric Asimov recently featured it the New York Timeswhich was pretty exciting. I bring an educational aspect to the club, with notes on each wine about the people, the place, and the winemaking. There’s also a specific club for wine students, where I send out blind tastings according to which exam they’re taking.
Jerez (Sherry – Xérès). Yes, I’m British.
When you’re able to travel again, which is the first region you’ll visit?
Well, the last place I was supposed to visit was Germany so I should resume my travels there.
Desert island wine?
Given it’s a remote, small island, let’s say Madeira!
The Land Down Under, Oz, Australia … however you refer to it, this is a continent/country with an incredibly varied winemaking history and culture, but one that too often gets pigeon-holed as solely producing big, high-alcohol wines.
Mark Davidson, Head of Education Development – Americas for Wine Australia
We sat down with Mark Davidson, Head of Education Development – Americas for Wine Australia (and who also happens to be a Grape Experience educator) to chat about what’s happening in Australia’s wine scene right now and how the WSET helps change consumer understanding of the wines.
How have perceptions of Australian wine changed in the USA over the last ten years?
There’s been a big shift over that last 10 years, and more particularly in the last 2-3 years. Before, the perception was quite negative and one dimensional across all levels of the supply chain. Now we are seeing that there’s a much better understanding of the diversity of wine styles and this has resulted in a renewed interest. On-trade are keen to bring on more wines and have been more receptive and actively seeking out Australian wines and distributors. We also have more importers looking at diversifying their books and bringing in different styles and varieties.
How have you been educating consumers/trade during Covid times?
We have been partnering with wine schools and other educational bodies to host webinars, we’ve ramped up our distributor training sessions, and we’re working on various media campaigns.
Our online learning platform has also been a real hit: Australian Wine Discovered (www.australianwinediscovered.com). This is a free site with a plethora of downloadable, editable resources that has been a game changer in terms of directing people to access a curated, reliable source of information.
We are also about to launch a campaign called “Far From Ordinary.” More on this in the next few weeks.
What undiscovered Australian wines (not necessarily brands, but regions and styles) should Americans know about that they don’t? What are the Australian wine regions on the rise that we should watch?
So many! I think there is generally a better understanding of the classic varieties and styles. There are many exciting and contemporary regional stories right now, but I think that what is going on with southern Mediterranean varieties in McLaren Vale and Riverland is very cool: Fiano, Vermentino, Nero d’Avola, and Montepulciano are all really showing themselves to be ideally suited to the environment, and the best examples are showing a lovely freshness and vitality.
How do WSET courses help promote Australian wine?
From the start, WSET has always provided a solid foundation in Australian wine. Getting those basics sorted early in your wine education helps avoid stereotypes that can develop – and that’s true of all countries and regions.
WSET students have to learn about Sparkling Shiraz: tell us why.
Because it is unique and lip-smackingly delicious! It is a historic style and while it can take people off guard initially, Sparkling Shiraz is incredible food friendly. Brilliant with Peking Duck, awesome on the Thanksgiving or Christmas table and remarkably good with Eggs Benedict. (That’s a personal story for another time….)
If you had to pick one region in Australia to take to a desert island, which one?
Yikes! That’s tough. Tasmania. That way I could drink world class bubbles, Pinot, and Chardonnay all day long. And in the unlikely event that those got boring, there’s delicious Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gamay.
Q&A with Jim Gore, DipWSET and Founder of the Global Wine Academy
As one advances through the WSET courses, culminating in the Level 4 Diploma and opening the door for aspiring candidates to pursue the Master of Wine, the curriculum becomes less exact. At the Diploma level, students are expected to create their own study plan to complement the WSET curriculum in order to pass the exams. Candidates for the MW program must go one step further, developing entirely independent study plans that guide their course of study for one of the most rigorous wine exams. Luckily, there are organizations who can help.
Jim Gore of Global Wine Academy
Global Wine Academy (GWA), founded by Jim Gore, DipWSET is one such entity that operates on a global scale. We got to sit down with Jim to talk about GWA and about the changing landscape of wine education.
GE: What inspired you to start the Global Wine Academy? What was the initial aim? Now a couple of years in, has that aim shifted at all?
JG: I wanted a change in lifestyle first and foremost – more flexibility. I also wanted to see what the world of wine education was like outside of WSET School London.
The program has changed monumentally over the past few years, particularly the last few months where we have gone completely online. This has allowed me to teach students who study outside of the UK or are studying online. I feel I’m now addicted to the variety and diversity this style of education offers and love getting to know new students so much that even when we do go back in the classroom, I think that will only be a minor part of my business.
GE: From your perspective, do students’ needs differ according to which wine program or level they are enrolled in e.g. WSET vs. MW, WSET Level 3 vs. Diploma)? How so, and how does the Global Wine Academy tailor their offerings to meet their specific needs?
JG: There is a genuine simple thread across all of the courses that we run: we look to build skills in students rather than give them answers. With that in mind, every course or session we run is split up into manageable chunks that are then worked on session after session, building long-lasting and transferable skills as we go.
The courses are always based around the assessment criteria for each qualification rather than the ‘topics.’ For example, our Online Theory Course runs in partnership with Enjoy Discovering Wine (Diploma APP), who uses a concept called ‘Flipped learning’ where we get the students to study and research in their own time and then we work on the more difficult skills together as a group. Too often you find that lectures are just visual versions of the textbook and the hardest skills to refine (analysis, application, and evaluation) are tested simply through mock exams. We have a strong view that as educators we must guide students through these difficult parts.
The MW tastings that we offer (and our online version that we are soon to be launching) focuses on the same process: we train the students how to answer the questions correctly and accurately. Feedback is essential and something we have been experimenting with through our courses. Students will often get to see each other’s feedback as well as different versions of how to answer the same question. The higher-level qualifications by nature offer many different ways of answering a question so facilitating an environment where students can share and continue to learn once they have left the course is essential. A full understanding of the feedback system is essential; we like to turn our students into mini-educators who are confident enough to spot mistakes in the work of others.
GE: How have you adapted programming since Covid-19 hit back in March? Will some of these changes continue even as markets open back up, or do you hope that everything will go back to normal?
JG: We now use WhatsApp and Google Docs in many of our courses as communication tools and platforms for collaborative work. One of our Theory groups that included students from the UK, Spain, France, Italy, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand have continued to meet each week and have formed a phenomenal post-course study group. We still keep an eye on them through Google Docs and on WhatsApp, but frankly they now have the skills to create questions themselves and test each other. We are thrilled with it.
We also now use a company to repackage wines in smaller formats so that students can taste at home.
GE: Looking at wine education overall, and many wine courses going virtual, do you think the structure will look a lot different in a post-Covid world? What schools/academies/organizations in your opinion have really done things right in coping with the current environment?
JG: 67 Pall Mall comes to mind as somewhere that has really cornered the market for wine tastings, charging a small fee to watch or treat yourself and order the wines along with some phenomenal speakers. It really is the palace for wine geeks on any budget.
There are so many examples of where it is done well and that is what I have been seeing mostly, but some places have not really understood the limitations of online. Too many institutions are running day-long courses with zero or no interactive elements. With the online platform, there are quiz functions, breakout rooms, and options to show videos and visuals more clearly and, most importantly, the ability to collaborate across different time-zones – so it is a shame when it is just a carbon copy of a classroom session.
GE: As the name suggests, the Global Wine Academy has international reach. Which countries do you currently offer your services in, and do you hope to expand into new markets in the future?
JG: We deliver wine to UK and Europe, but would love to experiment further abroad at some point. We have had some success with students ordering wines locally that are similar to the ones we taste. This isn’t perfect for fine-tuning calibration, but just as good for examination technique. This year we have had students from: UK, Sweden, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Australia, New Zealand, and both coasts of USA.
I’ve also adapted one of my courses working with AWSEC in Hong Kong where we have done tastings together virtually. That has been a great to reach new audiences through simple collaboration.
GE: Any other comments you would like to share?
JG: Our latest venture is the Instagram Live Calibration Wine Fair. 24 wines are shipped in small test tubes to students and we go through them all in one day! Many students watched and then ordered afterwards, others tasted along using the videos on IGTV over the course of a week. Moving forward, we are looking to expand this model over a couple of days, including some guest speakers. All the videos are available on our IGTV channel, along with some student-led calibration videos that we did over the summer.
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.”
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.
A WINE TOUR IS A GLIMPSE INTO SLOVENIA’S VAST VITICULTURAL HERITAGE
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.
SLOVENIAN WINE IS TRADITION IN LIQUID FORM
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.
WHERE MEMORIES ARE MADE AND FRIENDSHIPS FORMED
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.
WRITTEN BY: TOM SMITH
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 WineFolly.com. 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
WineWitAndWisdomSWE.com, GuildSomm.com, and WineBusiness.com 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.
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!
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: https://www.grapeexperience.com/events/units-d1-d2-san-francisco-traditional-course/
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 https://www.grapeexperience.com/beginner-wine-courses/
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: https://www.grapeexperience.com/events/level-2-san-francisco-3/
For Level 2 Spirits register here: https://www.grapeexperience.com/events/spirits-level-2-san-francisco-students/
For the September 18 Boston course register here: https://www.grapeexperience.com/events/level-2-boston-weeknights-5/
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- I want to share what I know with others
- I think it is the logical thing to do once I get my certification, isn’t it?
- I think it would be fun
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.