[slider]Every WSET Certified Educator and Approved Program Provider brings new ideas and methods to the classes they teach.  These approaches often put a unique spin that can make material more relevant to the geographic area and understandable for the student.  Grape Experience over its 12+ year history has implemented ideas have helped students taking WSET courses gain more knowledge, confidence and success.  I am honored that once again WSET has recognized me by shortlisting me for 2017 Educator of the Year.

In 2017, we introduced three major new approaches to enhance our WSET courses:  The Systematic Approach to Theory, an alternate New World Syllabus for Level 3 Wine, and Sake courses in contextual settings.  These adaptions to already great programs will further encourage students to challenge themselves and become more successful.

The Systematic Approach to Theory

Over the years I have found that most students focus their study time on tasting – particularly WSET Level 3 and Diploma candidates.  This “trap” seems logical – many students believe they already know enough theory to pass an exam, and almost everyone I have met lacks some confidence in their tasting ability (even if they are great tasters!).  Also, practicing tasting is fun – you get to drink and often be in a social/fun setting.  The results on exams, however, suggest this is a mistake.  Tasting pass rates are much higher than those for Theory. Often, I hear students leave a theory exam muttering, “I never thought they’d ask…”

The Systematic Approach to Theory that I, along with Grape Experience Educators, developed is a way to focus students on Theory and work it into their daily lives.  It involves two simple components:  Tasting for Theory and Teaching.

Every time a student tastes wine is an opportunity to study Theory.  Yes, we are actually encouraging tasting but in a new way. Whether it is in a restaurant, bar, tasting group or any social setting, a student is encouraged to think theory.  First, where is this wine made and what are the natural factors that impact its style (climate, topography, soils, etc.).  Then, what are the options humans can take to further influence its style (blending, maceration and fermentation techniques, oak, etc.). We suggest a student carry a digital or paper notebook where they can make quick notes as to what they don’t know and need to look up.  This paper trail better focuses a student on the key salient points.

The second element – teaching – helps a student commit to memory what they are learning.  Teaching moments occur every day:

  • When the student is out to dinner or at a bar with friends, pick a wine and explain to friends in detail the natural and human factors that go in to it – again using the notebook to jot down what they can’t remember/don’t know.
  • At work find a wine each day and educate co-workers/customers throughout the day on that wine. Find reasons to build it into conversation.
  • Create themed wine tasting social/practice events and educate friends and colleagues on a wine or region. In most cases the people being taught will be fascinated, while the student gets valuable study opportunity.

We have found that actually speaking out what you are studying better commits knowledge to memory than just writing it down.  In Grape Experience WSET Diploma courses we start every session with a formal Systematic Approach to Theory exercise using real wines.

The New World in Level 3

The Level 3 in Wine that was introduced in late 2016 is perhaps the most innovative, best new WSET course ever.  The course composes 15 sessions of which three cover New World countries.  Students wanted more so we re-worked the syllabus to enable an additional New World session without adding more course hours.  In doing so, we were able to create a different approach to New World geographies.

Grape Experience instructors clustered the major New World regions into like areas:

  • The two largest geographies, both relatively warm but with multiple microclimates – Australia and North America – were split into two sessions one for white and another for red wines.
  • Two smaller cooler climate regions – New Zealand and Chile – were taught together, as were the mostly warmer South Africa and Argentina.

The result is that students can in real time compare and contrast the natural and human factors that impact wine style, while focusing in on specific geographies important to their market. This “local” approach to a great course meets student requests without sacrificing any material.

Sake in Context

The WSET Levels 1 and 3 Sake courses demystify a new category of alcoholic beverages and expose students to the variety of sake production and style options.  We found that, unlike wine or spirits, sake was completely new to most students.  Rather than teach this program in a traditional classroom we brought it to the production and service sources – either teaching it at a Japanese Izakaya/restaurant or a sake brewery.

Sake students now have all around them the elements of production and service.  The material in the course comes alive, as students have opportunities to interact with sake sommeliers and producers and explore on their own concepts in the lectures and written materials.  The results so far have been greater engagement and stronger positive reviews for WSET Sake courses taught by Grape Experience.

I am proud that WSET has recognized all that we are doing to give students the best education opportunities we can.  In 2012, we were given the Educator of the Year Award and this year I was shortlisted for the 2017 Educator of the Year.  This is an honor for me personally but would not have been possible without a terrific team of certified educators behind me, as well as students really engaging in the material WSET offers.  I look forward to continued innovation in the new year ahead.

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