If you've read through the syllabus for Unit 3 of the WSET Diploma, you'll know what I mean when I say: OMG! How are we expected to remember all this information, in so much detail?

The answer is: we're not. As students, we have to get strategic to succeed. Here are the strategies I used to pass the exam.

Review Past Exam Questions

The first step before studying is to review past exams to see what kinds of questions were asked. Not just on which region, but paying attention to the scope of the question. For example, an essay I answered asked about the styles of wine in the Loire. A very broad scope, with plenty of opportunity to make enough points to pass. Another was on the sub-regions of Chile - there was no question about just one specific sub-region like Bio-Bio, we were able to choose from several.

Knowing how we're expected to respond to questions is important when we study, so that we don't go too far down the rabbit hole of miniscule detail.

Review the past exams and sample essays to get into the mindframe of the examiners, and think about what level of knowledge they're asking you to demonstrate in your essay. It's not naming every soil type, or knowing the GC's of Burgundy off by heart from North to South - the goal is for us to show mastery of the topic, with concise and applied knowledge, and common sense.

Major - Middle - Minor

As wine lovers, we tend to get super geeky about every region - they're all so fascinating. Sweet wines of Greece? Check. Vin Jaune from Jura? Check. But, for the purposes of Unit 3 Theory, we need to categorize the relative importance of the regions/countries to choose how we'll spend our time studying.

I started with France, and recommend you do too. If you look at past exams, there's always at least one essay question on a French region. Given that you have to answer 5 of the 7 questions, better to know France really well so you can save one of those 2 for something where you're stuck. Starting on France is also smart, because if you have extra time for review before your exam, you'll be getting an additional refresh on the material.

For example, here are some of the countries in the curriculum and how I prioritized them:

Major countries - know these in and out: France, Spain, Italy, Germany.

Middle countries - a good chance you'll see a question about them: South Africa, Australia, USA, Argentina, Chile.

Minor countries - it's a toss up, they could make an appearance, are they trending?: Switzerland, Canada, Uruguay, Bulgaria, China, England.

Know The Fundamentals & Apply Logic

Our minds start getting really full of details towards the exam, and personally, it felt like living in a cluttered house - overwhelming and distracting. Two things helped: the first was to take note of the exception. For example, if five wines of a region require 24 months of aging, but there's just one that needs 36, you only have two facts to remember: 24 and 36.

The other thing that helped with mental clutter was to revisit and memorize fundamental truths about viti and vini at the beginning of my studies. What is a maritime climate? What effect does marl soil have on a finished wine? That way you have a database of fundamentals in your head to refer to, and can show mastery by bringing up specific exceptions to the rules. 


Did you learn these in high school: who-what-when-where-how? Well, this is one of the ways to think about the regions as you study, but replace them with: Viti-Vini-Climate-Rules-Producers.

As you review regions, ask yourself if you can name the soil, climate, grape varietal, any production rules, and a key producer! Don't worry, the exam is not trying to trick you. I found the overarching theme of the exam questions was centered around how a given terroir (the land, climate, grapes, winemaking, and culture) expresses itself in a given wine.

Mind Palaces

I read a short book about mind palaces called The Memory Palace. It's a quick read, only 64 pages, but it teaches how to effectively use mental imagery to remember a series of facts (like the plays of Shakespeare). I used mind palaces to memorize the 10 crus of Beaujolais and their respective styles. A year later and I can still close my eyes and walk through the different rooms of Fleury and Morgon. It was a game changer for memorizing, and I highly recommend you read the book or listen to it!

Have you written the Theory exam for Unit 3? Share your tips and strategies in the comments!

Cheers & Cin Cin,



The big bold reds have arrived. Black Sage Vineyard recently released their 2014 lineup, including Zinfandel, Shiraz, Merlot, Cab Sauv, and Cab Franc.

One thing they have in common: they're unabashedly drinkable. Oh, and they've got the backbone to lay down for a while too, if you're buying an extra bottle (as all are under $25, this isn't a bad idea). 

Winemaker Jason James joined Sumac Ridge in 2005, and in 2010 took over winemaking for Sumac plus newly spun-off label, Black Sage. “The vineyard has some of the oldest plantings of late ripening reds in the valley. I’ve just been so impressed with the quality of fruit that the Black Sage Vineyard delivers every year.”

Nestled on the east side of the valley, the deep sandy soils of the Black Sage Bench combine with extra sunshine hours, to ripen even the most challenging Bordeaux varietals - like Cab Sauv. In a banner year like the 2014 vintage, this means particularly good reds. Says James, "I feel very good about the 2014 vintage. In my opinion it's one of the most solid showings of wines from Black Sage Vineyard in a long time".

One element that benefited in particular from the extra sun: tannins. Black Sage are known for their structured big wines, that sometimes need a bit of bottle age before they're ready to enjoy. The 2014's are generous enough to drink now, with notably approachable tannins.

Black Sage Vineyard 2014 Zinfandel

Plums, a hint of smoke and spice, red licorice, espresso, laden with red raspberry. Vanilla and marzipan. Nice velvety tannins, and warming peppery finish, balanced by bright acidity. Not a wallflower, but perfect for fans of indulgent reds. Voluptuous! {available exclusively at the winery}

Black Sage Vineyard 2014 Shiraz

Definitely a Shiraz, the fruit wafts right up out of the glass: preserved red and blue fruit, vanilla, lavender, a hint of meaty black olive, almost saline, with a spiced finish and generous texture. {available exclusively at the winery}

Black Sage Vineyard 2014 Merlot

Cherry cocoa galore, great intensity of singing red cherry, dusty mouth coating tannins, clove, sweet licorice, vanilla. Not a run of the mill Merlot, has character.

Black Sage Vineyard 2014 Cabernet Franc

Floral, with violets and fresh pencil shavings (in the best way), delicate dried mint, surprisingly savoury, robust tannins, lingering spice. Calls for laying down one more year. Pair with steak and peppercorns, or anything with Montreal steak spice.

Black Sage Vineyard 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Oodles of fruit, deep burgundy, jumps out of the glass with powerful intensity, blackberry and black cherry, pure graphite, lovely eucalyptus note. Vanilla and a touch of residual sugar along with substantial tannins give it heft (the grapes were allowed to ripen until a November harvest). Very pleasing mocha note. Would appeal to fans of Cali Cabernet. 


All images courtesy of Black Sage Vineyards. Wines samples were provided by Black Sage Vineyards. Please see my Sample Policy for more information. Cheers!


I’ve assembled a rafter* of four BC wines, all under $25, one each of sparkling, white, rosé, and red.

Perfect for pleasing a variety of palates on Thanksgiving!

The key to entertaining is to choose broadly appealing wines that will pair with a range of foods. Or, to break all the rules and just buy the wine you love to drink!


Okanagan Crush Pad Narrative XC Method NV $24

Flavours: XC are the Roman numerals for 90, which is how long this non-vintage wine rests on the lees (spent yeasts) to get a subtle creamy flavour. It's a blend of classic Champagne grapes: 60% Pinot & 40% Chard, done in a cost effective but delicious manner. Perfect for pairing with cheese and crackers, baked brie, even potato chips while you hang out in the kitchen.

Having something celebratory to welcome guests with is a classy touch. This bubbly will pair with salty snacks while the meal finishes cooking, and also makes the perfect host/hostess gift. 


Wild Goose 2015 Riesling $17

Flavours: mango, honey and pears, zingy refreshing acidity, it’s a Level 2 sweetness, so perfect for guests who love a more generously flavoured white. Punches above its price in flavour.

Not every white wine has to be dry, a Riesling with a touch of sweetness will stand up to richer Thanksgiving fare. A generous white, like the Wild Goose, will pair wild bolder styles of turkey (spicy rub, deep fried), sweet side dishes like roast yams, and even the pecan pie.


JoieFarm 2015 Rethink Pink Rosé $19

Flavours: bright with red cherry and berry notes, it’s just slightly off dry, a great match for stuffing with roast herbs, cranberry sauce, roast root veg/parsnips, and has a nice silky texture. 70/30 Pinot/Gamay. It’s versatile, and is juicy enough to keep everyone smiling. 

Rosé is a winning match with turkey, especially those made in a savoury French style (this one's inspired by the Anjou rosés of the Loire Valley). The JoieFarm would pair wonderfully with cranberry sauce.


Robin Ridge 2013 Gamay $23

Flavours: A winning red should have smooth light tannins to please fans of soft reds, but enough flavour to keep bolder red-lovers happy. A ripe style of Gamay from a sunny heat trap like Keremeos in the Similkameen Valley will be a winner with all, and won’t overwhelm the food like some heavier grapes may, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s a nice spice on the palate, brambly fruit, raspberry, and peppery dried wild herbs. It’s lively but concentrated.

*I learned today that a group of turkeys is called a 'rafter' and not a flock!


Me before the exam: please let there be a Riesling!

Me before the exam: please let there be a Riesling!

Some of the trickiest elements of the WSET Diploma are the blind tasting exams. I recently had an email from a reader requesting blind tasting tips for their upcoming exam.

After giving it some thought, I've put together my top 5 tips to help you ace your blind tastings, plus one bonus tip. One item I want to note up front though: you don't need to ID a wine to pass the exam - your ability to accurately assess the wine's characteristics is what will get you a pass (although it's always nice to get it right)!

Have a routine

There was some research recently that said when you have a routine when you taste, like looking in a particular direction, it can help you be more effective. There was also a study on the parts of the brain a somm or wine student accesses as they taste wine, and doing MRI's found they were the regions that govern logic and memory.

After I read the research, I took note of where my eyes went when I tasted, and found it's always up and to the right as I test a wine sample. This was a habit I'd developed without thinking about why. After noting it, I make efforts to repeat the same movement, especially in exams and when I can't pinpoint what a wine is. Having a habit is comforting and helps you feel in control when you're in a stressful situation.

Pretend you're picking up and swirling a glass of wine under exam conditions, and pay attention to any habits you have: where are your eyes looking? Try it out next time you do a blind tasting. I'd be interested to hear in the comments whether you look up and to the right too, or somewhere else completely (maybe your eyes are closed)!

Memorize & Scan

As you smell and taste, mentally run through the different aroma and flavour categories in your mind. Use the same order each time, so it becomes a strategy.

I always start with fruit: red fruit, black fruit, stone fruit, citrus, dried fruit. Oak: toast, vanilla, wood spice. Dairy: cream, yogurt. Herbaceous: cedar, tobacco, mint. etc. You don't need to find something from every category, just mentally ask yourself whether that category is present in the wine. It's a prompt to get you thinking.

Personally, I used to occasionally miss noting minerality, but now I make sure to just ask myself if it's present in the wine.

Pretend you are running a computer scan of the wine with your mind. Yes, it's a bit geeky, but now that I've memorized the categories, it's quick, easy, and intuitive.

With the tasting grid, you need to memorize the categories and their order. Absolutely! When I write a note, the elements are in the same order every time. Avoid going higgledy piggledy and be consistent: markers love it because it makes their job easier. If you're making markers lives easier, and your thoughts are in order, you'll convey 'mastery' (that's what WSET are looking for).

So you might think this is sounding a bit robotic? Maybe, but there's room to let your opinions shine in your note. If you think a wine is excellent, say so. If it tastes muddled and lacking in intensity, say so.

Note Your First Impression, But Don't Judge

The exam begins when the invigilator says it does, but there's no rule against being extra observant as your pour your wine samples. You can already be checking for clues without touching your glass: what's the colour, how viscous is it, is it clear or hazy, are there bubbles. Which order will you taste these wines in (there's no law saying you should taste in the order they're numbered! If one's opaque purple and another's pale garnet, start on the garnet).

When the exam begins, if something leaps out at you right away about the wine, write it down. For example, it's got screaming high acidity, or smells hot and jammy, or it's very floral, put a note at the top of your tasting sheet for later. Often these first impressions will help you suss out what the wine is when you're making a final conclusion. Not to be too neurotic, but choose a place on your scrap paper where you'll make these notes, and put them in the same place every time. Systems = success.

But... don't make a judgement call till the end!

As tricky as this is, try not to immediately jump to a conclusion about the wine. If a grape or region spring immediately to mind, make a note of it, but continue to assess the wine as if you don't need to ID it. If you're convinced at the start your wine is a Syrah, then without even meaning to, you might start writing out a Pinot Gris note when it's really a Torrontes.

Be A Detective

When studying for the Unit 3 Tasting exam, at the end of a flight of three wines, use the notes you've made from your three wines to give you clues. 

On my scrap paper, at the start of the test, I write down a list of all the main red and white grapes. When I go to conclude and an ID is called for, I narrow that list down as much as possible. For example, I recently tried a flight of three red wines. They were all medium intensity ruby, with aromas of black fruit, and peppery flavours. One showed herbaceousness, and another was rich and ripe. One was very meaty.

I narrowed down the grape shortlist to Cab Franc, Syrah, and Grenache. From there I went back to my notes and underlined common words and characters. Black pepper was in every note. Blackcurrant was too. All showed medium+ or higher tannins. One of the wines was extremely herbaceous. The key clue though was the strong smoked meat character of one of the wines.

I ruled out Grenache due to the high tannins present and lack of red fruit character. Hmmm, are these wines Cab Franc or Syrah? What classic regions could these wines be from? I make a list of all the regions these wines could logically come from: on the left for Cab Franc, on the right for Syrah.

If I go with Cab Franc, the Loire would be a prime guess, but are there other Cab Franc regions that would fit the other two wines? Hmmm. If I go with Syrah, the Northern Rhone would be a good fit for the meaty wine. The riper one could be from a hotter climate, like Australia or California. The herbaceous wine is from a cooler climate, but I can't place it. Of the two grapes, Syrah made more sense, and was the correct answer.

All that logic being said, sometimes you get a gut feeling at the end: "these are from Spain" or "this wine is Zinfandel", and it's important not to ignore why that thought is coming to you. Run your gut feeling guess through the lists you made and see if it's a fit.

Practice Under 'Extreme' Conditions

No, you don't need to practice blind tasting in Antarctica, but you do need to train yourself to write excellent notes in short times, under some duress.

You'll have 10 minutes a wine, but in the exam time flies by like crazy, and a blank page gets you no marks. Start by practising at 8 minutes a wine, but each week, drop it down by a minute until you can write a great note in 6 minutes.

During the exam, there will be 20 - 30 very stressed people in the room, shuffling, coughing, clinking glassware, etc. This can be a big distraction if you're used to tasting in silence, so I'd recommend playing music, blind tasting in a group, or having other ambient noises (like a TV in the background) as you practice.

On test day, if you've prepared this way, you'll have extra time to go back and re-taste the wines to make any final comments in your conclusions. I've picked up extra points by going back at the end, and picking up a note of cream or pepper that I missed previously that helps me ID what's in the glass.

You'll also have a little extra time to scan your answers to make sure you haven't left out a category, costing you points. For example, I noticed in practice exams that I sometimes forgot to note flavour intensity or alcohol. I made a point of checking at the end of my exam and caught that I had indeed left it out on a couple notes. Yes, two extra points! Check your tasting notes against the grid to see if you're regularly forgetting categories.

Bonus Tip: Read & Re-read the Questions

This is something that everyone says to do, but only because it's true. Every exam, there's someone who fails to read what the question is asking and may not pass because of it.

There's an easy fix though: bring a highlighter to your exam, and highlight the action words from each question. For example, if the question says, "Note the differences in quality. These wines are from different regions", then highlight and circle in pen "Note the differences in quality" and "different regions". When you're making conclusions, look again at your highlighted sections.

Thanks for reading! If you have a tip to share, please leave a comment.

Cin cin,



Should I do the WSET Diploma or climb these mountains? Hmmm.

Should I do the WSET Diploma or climb these mountains? Hmmm.

I've been getting a lot of questions lately, for WSET diploma study tips and also from people considering whether to embark on the Diploma. Is it worth it?

Part of learning about wine, is the more you learn, the more you realize there is so much more to learn about.

When I finished WSET, I was in a state of being totally wine-humbled, convinced I knew less than ever (and I'm still there). A good thing for someone driven by curiosity and the need to learn more!

Before doing the diploma, I thought that the difficulty level would be a commensurate step from Advanced, just like moving from Level 2 to 3. What happened for me was the overwhelming realization that the Master of Wine program must be darn hard (the difficulty of Level 4 approached what I had mistakenly thought the MW program would be like).

The Costs:

Time and money are the key considerations here. Do you have them to spare? You'll need both.

Time: I'd say 15-20 hours a week to study as you prepare for each unit, more for Unit 3. More as you come up to the exam. Four weeks before each exam, it was closer to 30-40 hours per week. 

One of the hardest parts of the time equation for me, was missing out on fun. Christmas? Usually I'm in the kitchen all week beforehand, my idea of heaven. What do I remember from last Christmas? Studying. Studying while my family had rum and eggnogs and watched movies. The Diploma means devoting your free time to flashcards and tasting.

Money: Tuition, textbooks, and wine are expensive. I paid close to $10,000 in tuition alone. 

The wine costs above and beyond tuition for blind tasting can be high too. The wines you taste in class are not enough to pass, you'll definitely need to supplement with your own tastings. If you set up a tasting group, your pocketbook will thank you.

Ex: Weekly blind tastings of 12 wines at an average cost of $30/bottle = $360. If you can get 6 people that's $60 each per week, or $45 if you have 8 people. Ideally someone in your group has access to wines at wholesale or near wholesale prices. 

The Benefits:

There's nothing like the feeling of finding out you've passed the Diploma! Suddenly you'll have so much time to fill with fun activities! Also...

Respect: While the general public has little idea of what the WSET is ("so, you're a sommelier"?), your industry peers do know, and the Diploma is highly respected. 

Employers Love WSET: I've spoken with grads who found the Diploma was instrumental in standing out from other job applicants, and really gave them a step up in credibility and confidence, and others who decided post-grad to take the leap into wine entrepreneurship (check out my Wine Career Q&A Series around this topic).

Confidence: It's a big benefit of finishing WSET. The confidence to help others learn about wine, know when something you're told is incorrect, or to go out on a limb to note that a wine is corked or superlative. Most especially the confidence to delve even deeper into the world of wine, maybe even enter the Master of Wine program!

Appreciation: The more you learn about wine, the more you appreciate the effort that goes into each bottle. Your education will enhance the rest of your life, when you go out for dinner, entertain, or when you travel, you will get more out of the experience because of your wine knowledge.

Mad Skillz: By the time you finish, your friends will be getting you to do their new favourite party trick - pouring you a blind wine and making you guess what varietal it is. More than some of the time, you'll be right. You might also be able to name the region, vintage, winemaking techniques, and have a go at the quality level. Magic! Or, the benefits of blind tasting hundreds of wines!

In conclusion, I found the effort of studying and writing the exams to be worthwhile. When I consider what I knew before, and how much more I've learned it's amazing, and excitingly, my eyes have been opened to how much more there is to learn. 

If you're deciding whether to enroll, I hope this helped. Feel free to leave a question or comment below and I'll do my best to answer.

Cheers & Cin Cin,




Winery Visits: Daily 9:30-7

Location: 1730 Mission Hill Rd, West Kelowna


Phone: 250-768-7611

Located in West Kelowna, with a commanding view over Okanagan Lake, this iconic winery is a place of pilgrimage for wine lovers touring the Okanagan, its soaring Tuscan profile and bell tower visible from miles away.

If you'll be visiting the area, Mission Hill is a benchmark setter, and you'll want to have lunch on the Terrace just for the view, or catch a concert in the grass-stepped amphitheatre; the extensive cellars make it a memorable place to take a tour, where you can spot the antique drinking cups, admire the barrel-vaulted ceilings and dramatic lighting, and peek into the winemaking area to see a wide variety of fermentation vessels: the Italian amphorae, concrete eggs, and big German oak tanks, bubbling away with the many wines produced here.

Behold: the Mission Hill bat cave!

Behold: the Mission Hill bat cave!

Mission Hill's Chief Winemaker Darryl Brooker

Mission Hill's Chief Winemaker Darryl Brooker

Owner Anthony von Mandl made a fortune with Mike's Hard Lemonade, and used the considerable funds to build Mission Hill. In 2014, Kelowna's CedarCreek Estate Winery was purchased, becoming part of the von Mandl Family Estates, joining Mark Anthony Wine Merchants, along with CheckMate Artisanal Winery (focused on ultra premium small lot wines) later in 2015. 

Darryl Brooker, who was Chief Winemaker at CedarCreek, took over winemaking from John Simes as of the 2015 Mission Hill vintage, after assisting with the 2013 and 2014 blending. Darryl has worked all over the world, including Villa Maria Estate in New Zealand, recognized as a leader in sustainable wine production.  John is now in charge of viticulture for all the von Mandl properties.

According to Darryl, he's excited by the wines produced in "what may prove to be the best harvests ever in British Columbia from 2013 to 2015". You heard it here, it's time to stock the cellars!

The impressive entry to Mission Hill winery

The impressive entry to Mission Hill winery

Being one of the largest producers in the province, it might be assumed that this is a bulk wine operation, but that's far from the case. I'm very impressed by Darryl and Mission Hill's commitment to improving farming techniques and sustainability, along with making small lot and site specific wines. They're one of the first BC wineries to use drones to map vigour (very cool), by flying over vineyards to measure how the vines are growing.

They're now releasing their first organic Merlot, which comes from a special spot in Oliver. The 2013 Terroir Collection Whispering Hill Organic Merlot, is not just grown in a certified organic vineyard, but also meets Canada's tricky organic wine production rules.

If such a large company is willing to make a commitment in moving to biodynamic and organic production, I say kudos to them.

A view over Okanagan Lake as twilight turns the sky violet 

A view over Okanagan Lake as twilight turns the sky violet 

Mission Hill makes wine in several ranges, tasted below are wines in the following categories:

Terroir: Very premium, made with the top 3% of their estate grown fruit in small lots $$$$.

Reserve: Well made wines from select vineyards and special sites, in limited quantities. Offering a good balance of quality and cost. $$

Five Vineyards: Larger production wines and keenly priced, from the five Okanagan Mission Hill vineyards, offering full flavour and surprisingly good value for money! Look out for the appealing new redesign on the labels in shades of blue and rose. $

2013 Mission Hill Family Estate Whispering Hill Organic Merlot

Picking up the bottle, I'm struck by the substantial weight, and the sense of craft in the embossed golden crest, and sepia vineyard photo. Being part of the Terroir series, it's noted up front that only 19 barrels were produced, and there's a nice level of detail on the back label about the making of the wine including site, clone, and winemaker (John Simes).

A romantic deep garnet red shade, with notes of mocha cocoa out of the glass, along with spiced plums. On the palate, soft and full with dense yet fine tannins. Cocoa with dried mint, and black cherry in the background. The glass is pleading with me for a food pairing: cherry sauced duck, Dijon mustard sauteed mushrooms, or slivers of crumbly Manchego cheese. PS: this wine opened up quite a bit after two hours of decanting, and gained an added dimension of cherry and plum fruit.

2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Limited Edition Viognier

An unctuous and mouthcoating wine, delightfully textured, with honeysuckle, baking spices and ripest peach (reminding me of sneaking a slice of peach from the pie dish). Has a hint of sweetness, but balanced.

2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio

You had me at hello, lemon citrusy nose. A very zesty Mandarin orange flavour is joined by honeyed pear at first sip. Fuller bodied, this might be heading in to richer Pinot Gris territory. A little heat on the finish at 14% ABV. Delivers lots of flavour and very good value for money. 

2015 Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Rosé

A vivid watermelon pink hue, and strawberry nose. It might be the power of suggestion, but the flavour is decidedly watermelon, zingy, with red cherry and a snippet of red rose. Dry, but generous. Could stand up to roast chicken, but best shared with friends at a Friday sunset.


All images courtesy of Mission Hill Family Estate. Wines samples were provided by Mission Hill. Please see my Sample Policy for more information. Cheers!


Why is this sheep so happy...?

Why is this sheep so happy...?

Because this is his view each day!

Because this is his view each day!

Perhaps you've heard the tale that there are more sheep than people in New Zealand?

There are definitely more sheep than people in Yealands' Marlborough vineyards, over 1,500 of them, and they're called Babydolls.

Nestled in the Awatere Valley, in the northeast corner of New Zealand's South Island, the vineyards are surrounded by a ring of hills, and buffeted by ocean winds, keeping it chilly at night.

Chief Winemaker Tamra Washington visited the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference to pour Yealands wines, and share more about the winery's initiatives, some more successful than others, but all unique: seaweed mixed with crushed green-lipped mussel shells laid down as compost for the vines, a team of guinea pig lawn mowers (sadly, not a winner), solar lights in the wetlands areas to attract bugs for the fish, solar panels powering classical music played to keep vines happy, vineyard clippings to help power the winery, and of course, there are those roaming Babydolls among the vines.

NZ's Awatere Valley, south of the Wairau Valley, within the Marlborough zone. In the Maori language, Awatere means "fast flowing stream", and the deep stony soils here are remnants of river paths.

NZ's Awatere Valley, south of the Wairau Valley, within the Marlborough zone. In the Maori language, Awatere means "fast flowing stream", and the deep stony soils here are remnants of river paths.

In the winery, there are cool advances too: like switching from an egg white fining product to one produced from potatoes, making the wine certified vegan.

Sunny days and cool nights, plus strong coastal winds produce small, intensely flavoured grapes. Fruit from the northern Wairau Valley is known for tropical fruit flavours, and from the southern Awatere, a notable saline herbaceousness (with inland vineyards giving blackcurrant, citrus, and floral notes).

Sunny days and cool nights, plus strong coastal winds produce small, intensely flavoured grapes. Fruit from the northern Wairau Valley is known for tropical fruit flavours, and from the southern Awatere, a notable saline herbaceousness (with inland vineyards giving blackcurrant, citrus, and floral notes).

Thinking differently is what we do at Yealands. Crafting award-winning wines in harmony with nature has seen us lead the world in sustainable winegrowing. But most importantly, it means great tasting wines that don’t cost the earth.” –Peter Yealands
Yealands' Chief Winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington

Yealands' Chief Winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington

Yealands' Owner Peter Yealands

Yealands' Owner Peter Yealands

Babydoll Sheep.jpg

Don't the sheep eat the grapes?

No, they're too short to reach them! This diminutive breed get to roam the almost 1,000 hectares of vines while munching on the green grass, with chickens and tiny Kune Kune pigs for company. The sheep are built in weed eaters, with the benefit for Yealands of less tractor use, saving the ground from compaction and reducing machine use.

All this sustainability would be for nought, if the wines weren't delicious; thankfully they are. Start here:

2014 Yealands Estate Single Block S1 Sauvignon Blanc: gunpowder meets elderflower in this powerhouse SBL. Think dried herbs, blackcurrant, perfumed with a long finish. Pair: fruit salad, grilled asparagus, pesto pasta, ripe goat's cheese.

2014 Yealands Estate Single Block S1 Sauvignon Blanc: gunpowder meets elderflower in this powerhouse SBL. Think dried herbs, blackcurrant, perfumed with a long finish.

Pair: fruit salad, grilled asparagus, pesto pasta, ripe goat's cheese.

2015 Peter Yealands Pinot Gris: peachy, honey and tangerine zest, with great intensity and a satin texture. Pair: sablefish, spicy moules frites, honey glazed chicken.

2015 Peter Yealands Pinot Gris: peachy, honey and tangerine zest, with great intensity and a satin texture.

Pair: sablefish, spicy moules frites, honey glazed chicken.

2015 Peter Yealands Pinot Noir: mocha cherry action in this juicy Pinot, with a little peat smoke on the nose, raspberry and cinnamon on the palate. Notably smooth tannins. Pair: roast salmon, duck with black cherry sauce.

2015 Peter Yealands Pinot Noir: mocha cherry action in this juicy Pinot, with a little peat smoke on the nose, raspberry and cinnamon on the palate. Notably smooth tannins.

Pair: roast salmon, duck with black cherry sauce.

The people demand more sheep! If you want to learn more about how the Babydolls help out in the vineyards, check out Yealands' video.

All images and video courtesy of Yealands Family Wines.


This is the third Q&A in a series, wherein I'm asking friends I've met in the wine world about their experiences taking WSET and their career in wine. I hope you enjoy!

Today, I'm chatting with the charming Joanne DiGeso; we met while taking the VIA Italian Wine Ambassador program together in Verona.

Q Hi Joanne, can you share with readers about where you’re at in the WSET Diploma right now? What’s been the most challenging unit thus far (and did the difficulty level line up with your expectations)? 

A: The most challenging unit is the unit 3, in Level 4 Diploma, Light Wines of the World. The difficulty lay in the breadth of the course, and how much detail you needed to know for every wine-growing region in the world. Furthermore, I was working as the Wine Director at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler and there were months of 15-hour workdays. So, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to cover enough. When the day came, my study group and I decided that if we had to take the exam over again, at least we would know those chapters so much more intimately. 

The difficulty did not line up with my expectations – ha! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an easy exam. I made some silly errors (such as I forgot to fill out the region of origin and the final analysis in the right section of one of the tasting papers) and I certainly could have done better. In fact, I won’t know until September if I passed. But I’m quite confident that I did!

Q What’s your best study tip? 

A: Start a tasting group right away! Meet every week and make sure you read the Specification guide. Your friends will help you with your weaknesses. Most people feel concerned about the blind tasting so it’s good to get on it immediately. After a few months, start writing timed essay questions together. Know that in fact more people fail the theory then the tasting. 

Q How do you feel the Diploma has impacted your career or presented you with career opportunities? 

A: Contacts. You form bonds with the people in your class and those contacts prove very useful in future job opportunities. You also have many different experts presenting each class. These contacts are invaluable as they are leaders in our field. 

Q You’ve been a sommelier at some of the top restaurants in Canada, what’s it like to manage such an impressive cellar, and what are the best and most challenging parts of the job?

A: Haha, who’s going to be reading this?!

It is of course an honour and a very special thing to be in charge of a huge cellar. When you have access to a huge cellar with old and diverse wines, you get to taste them too. Having the ability to offer the best of everything to a customer is what makes this job interesting, and being able to surprise our customers with hidden treasures from the cellar, makes our nerdiness and passion shine on the job.

The challenging part for me was to coordinate the needs of my boss and the requirements of the accountants who wanted totally different things in regards to inventory and availability. There was also trying to keep the catering manager content and having to explain why wines for groups will not come in within a week’s deadline in the BC liquor ordering system. And then, of course there are the weekly stops at the BC Liquor store trying to find wines that haven’t arrived after 7 weeks. 

I think we all have a romantic image of a sommelier tasting wines all day and poetically waxing their attributes to guests in the restaurant. There seems to be a lot less of this than I previously thought! 

Q What’s the coolest wine you’ve been able to try because of your somm career?

A: My favourite was a 1945 Marques de Riscal Gran Reserva Rioja because it still tasted somewhat fresh and not completely tertiary. There was still some plum fruit in there!

Q Where do you see your career progressing as you complete the Diploma?

A: I definitely want to be even more engaged with wine makers all around the world and in traveling a lot more to meet them. I love hearing their stories, their challenges and the risks they had to take in order to make the precious liquid gold elixir that we get to drink.

I’m also looking forward to sharing my experience on the field with others through my website  

Q Wildcard: anything else you want to share? 

A: WSET is definitely under-represented in the public eye. Movies such as “Somm” explain the path to becoming a Master Sommelier but most people don’t know about the Master of Wine program.

WSET is an internationally renowned program, widely used in the wine industry and I would love to spread the word on the big screen! You are thinking of doing your MW as well, correct? Maybe we should star in a movie about that together! 

Absolutely! The MW Journey: There and Back Again :) 


Thanks for reading! I hope you gained some insight on taking the Diploma and working as a high profile somm from Joanne. You can catch her on Twitter @sommwine or Instagram and feel free to leave your comments and questions below.

Cheers, Rachel



This is the second Q&A in a series, wherein I'm asking friends I've met in the wine world about their experiences taking WSET and their career in wine. I hope you enjoy! Today, I'm chatting with Matthew, who was one of the strongest tasters in our WSET Diploma classes, and an all around great guy.

Q Congrats on completing the WSET Diploma! What did you find to be the most challenging unit (and did the difficulty level of the program line up with your expectations)? 

A: Thank you and congrats to you too.  It sure is nice to have closed this chapter and be looking to the next mountain to climb.

Personally, I felt that Unit 3 was by far the most challenging in the diploma programme. The breadth and depth required to excel in this unit really tested my resolve and forced me to study much more than in previous units.  Effectively, Unit 3 is the same scope of all the other five units combined.

As far as my expectations of the difficulty in the programme, I was under no illusions that this would be an easy course to pass.  There are less than 10,000 graduates around the world since its inception and some of these names are highly recognisable in the wine trade.  I feel that the biggest difficulty is the fluidity of the wine trade; everyday something new is available: studies, journals, new Regions and Sub-regions being defined.  This is the wonderful part of studying wine, but certainly provides some added anxiety when preparing for examinations.

Q What’s your best study tip for current WSET level 4 students?

A: Spend lots of time hitting the books. Spend lots of time practicing under exam conditions. Theory is by far the hardest part of the process and tasting is just theory in practice. However, don’t let the task burden you so that you lose your passion. Keep chipping away at your goals everyday, every week, every month. Read a lot. Taste a lot. Get a great group to study with, if you can. It helps keep up your motivation.  

Moreover, whenever I felt like I was losing my passion or getting tired of studying, I would open something delicious to drink and just like magic, my love of wine would come screaming back and I’d feel reinvigorated.

Q How do you feel the Diploma has impacted your career or presented you with career opportunities? 

A: It is quite amazing how being a diploma graduate has already opened new doors for me.  I have begun teaching for Fine Vintage in Calgary and now in Edmonton as well.  I have had the chance to judge the Alberta Beverage Awards recently too.  I also own a consulting business which, when you are marketing yourself in a sea of competition, having the extra accreditation puts me at a leg up when looking for work.  Because of the relative rarity of graduates, it certainly gives potential employers pause on your resume when they see WSET Diploma. 

Q You're teaching WSET at one of the best schools in North America. What impact did the Diploma have on this? What are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of teaching about wine?

A: I am the luckiest guy in the world.  If I had known that I could have made a life out of wine, I would have started down this path at a much earlier stage in my life.  I have previously taught ESL in Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia in addition to Phys-ed and ran staff wine trainings while I was running restaurants in Calgary and Toronto, which sparked the teaching bug in me a long time ago.  However, teaching wine professionally for Fine Vintage is equally, if differently, rewarding to me.  If not for the WSET Diploma, I would have never met James Cluer, MW, the owner of Fine Vintage, and I never would have been able to join FV as a teacher. 

I love teaching; it is stressful yet wonderful, challenging yet rewarding. It takes a lot of work by a lot of people to make sure I can stand up and run a course. And it takes lots of people caring to make it go off without issue. I get the fun part of standing in front of the group and making sure everyone is along for the journey.  

I often picture myself sitting where students are when I teach and how in a few short years they could be right alongside me, following their own dreams in the industry.  It’s the greatest feeling.  

Furthermore, I also love that it forces me to keep studying.  Students ask amazing and sometimes difficult questions that you need to have answers to, while conveying it in a language that is appropriate for the level that you’re teaching.  You can’t rest on what you know as new information is available everyday.

Q Where do you see your career progressing going forward?

A: Oh dear. That’s a tough question. There’s so much more available to me now with the diploma. Trade trips, wine judging, new job opportunities in restaurant and wine retail.  

I hope to continue teaching, judge more wine competitions and travel to more wine regions around the world.  Additionally, I have sent in an application for the Institute of Masters of Wine programme and I’m currently completing my Champagne Masters through the Wine Scholar Guild. I really like learning and want to keep progressing as a student of wine.

Professionally, I hope to get into a high level position in wine purchasing for a high quality retailer, respected import agency or restaurant group.  I’m keen to keep growing my consulting business too. And I also have a dream to make my own wine one day soon. 

Q Wildcard! Anything else you want to share?

A: It’s been said that the WSET Diploma is extremely difficult, which it is, but unlike Level 1, 2 & 3, where all the information is in the book.  At Level 4, it’s really up to you to find the answers and, more importantly, to ask the right questions.  Nobody will give you all the answers, especially WSET.  They merely guide you on what to study.  You need to find the relevant information and disseminate those parts that are useful and applicable.

There’s also something to be said for all the people that you meet.  I have met and stayed in contact with many of my classmates, teachers and guest instructors from the diploma group who are both in Calgary and further afield around the world.  At the end of the day, you will meet lots of great, dedicated, fantastic people who come from such diverse backgrounds and who all love wine at least as much as me.  To me, this has to be one of the best and most satisfying aspects of the diploma and all the hard work that goes into completing it.


Thanks for reading! I hope you gained some insight from Matt's thoughtful responses. You can catch him on Twitter @mattyleslie and feel free to leave your comments and questions below.

Cheers, Rachel


Presenting at WBC16 in Lodi, California

Presenting at WBC16 in Lodi, California

I recently attended the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) for the first time; this year it was held in fantastic Lodi, California. It's got to be the best conference I've ever been to, with all kinds of tastings, trips to the vineyards, talking with winemakers, and meeting so many interesting and passionate people.

WBC had sent out an email asking for volunteers to do blogger reports, updating the group on the goings on in various blogger's corners of the world. I thought, awesome and applied.

Then I remembered that I’m terrified of public speaking. Especially in front of several hundred wine bloggers.

If you were there, you'll know that my speech was a little shaky, because I got stage nerves. But at least I got up there and gave it my best! 

Today I'm sharing on the blog what I wanted to share at WBC. My presentation was entitled, From Book to Blog: A Hardhitting Exposé ;) Really, it's just a collection of tips I put together after reflecting on getting my guidebook completed.


My background is varied, but I’ve always loved food and wine. I did a degree in Classical Archaeology, which logically lead to getting into the financial services business, and opening my own practice. A few years ago, I followed my dream of going to culinary school, which included the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) level 1 class, and I just knew that I needed to make wine my career.

In this post, I’ll be sharing some of the process and challenges I experienced in finishing my first book, called Winetripping Okanagan.

After I finished the WSET Diploma at the beginning of 2016, I suddenly had way more spare time now that I wasn’t studying wine 30 hours a week (20 if you count the extra Star Trek TNG reruns & reading mysteries set in ancient Rome). 

I’ve been blogging about wine for the last two years, more seriously in the past year. I knew that writing a book was something I wanted to achieve, but I faced some indecision on what to write about, which I’ll talk more about in a second.


My goals for the guidebook were promoting and supporting the family owned wineries of BC’s Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. I want these wineries to be successful, and see myself as an advocate for craft growers & producers.

As much as I love the wineries, my primary goal is to be consumer centric, helping readers find awesome wineries, so I was pretty focused about including only the producers that had mastered both the customer experience in the tasting room, as well as making delicious wines.

This is the cover, which I wanted to be fun and to feature some of the flora and fauna of the region. Ogopogo’s there in Okanagan Lake, which is like our version of the Loch Ness monster, along with our ever-present quails, and even a rattlesnake.


I’ve been thinking for a while about writing a book, but was having trouble deciding what exactly I should write about. It really became clear when I gave some thought to what people most often asked me about, which was which wineries they should visit in the Okanagan, or if I could please recommend an itinerary for a friend who'd be touring with visitors through the valley. I'm so passionate about this area, and there are over 200 wineries now! It can be a bit overwhelming trying to choose which to visit.


Next was the most fun, doing the "research" and getting to visit the tasting rooms, which is one of my favourite things about wine. If you're looking to start a passion project, I highly recommend choosing a topic that’s going to bring you more of what you most enjoy, and in this case it was wine travel. Making the trip up to taste at wineries all the time was a compelling and motivating perk!


This next bit is all about procrastination… I wouldn't call myself a procrastinator, but as they might say in a Dilbert cartoon, I am highly deadline motivated.

For me, the decision that really got this going was hiring a designer. I made a big investment in a great designer and illustrator (Laurie Millotte & Rafael Varona), and needed to have the documents ready for them so they could proceed with their work, which kept me accountable. You don’t need to hire anyone, but if you can't create this kind of accountability, it will help. Which leads into my next tip.


Please tell everyone about your project, and when it’ll be complete. If you’re deadline motivated like me, this really keeps you on track, and you’ll have cheerleaders supporting your progress along the way.

I belong to a mastermind group of four women; we meet every two weeks to update each other on our projects, and keep each other accountable, as well as supporting each other, and I highly recommend setting up a group like that.


As I worked on the book, I struggled with thinking maybe I didn’t have enough to offer, that the book needed to be gigantic and the most impressive guidebook full of bells and whistles and 500 pages long. This lead to getting stuck and overwhelmed, with very little writing getting done! 

What cured this was telling myself it’s OK to start small and build from there, including only the best of the best wineries. So next year, I’ll look back and say, I’m so glad I wrote that in 2016 because it gave me to foundation to improve upon. I can keep adding value to the guide with each edition.


With writer’s block, which I had a bad case of, I went old school. I’d put down a stack of sheets of paper, and write the name of the winery on the top of each one, then set my timer for 5 minutes and made myself write by hand, freeform with all my thoughts. Then I'd type up my stack of wineries and fine tune the writing.

I pretended I was writing to my friends and telling them about the winery. My mantra was to be entertaining and helpful. Thinking entertaining and helpful helped me stay focused and finish the book, and be of service to visitors to Okanagan wine country too! 

If you're interested in Amazon Createspace publishing, you can find more information here.

Please feel free to comment below with any questions you have and I'll answer there, or message me on Instagram (which is the social media channel I’m most active on) @rachelvonsturmer

Thanks for reading!