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.