WHAT I'VE LEARNED SINCE TAKING THE WSET DIPLOMA

what i learned in the wset diploma.jpg

I've had a draft of this post in the works for a while, but I've been simmering over what I wanted to say since completing the WSET Diploma last year.

I know many readers just sat for the January 2017 Unit 3 Diploma exam, and wanted to share this with you in case you find yourself in the same boat I was in...

 

"I think I failed the exam"

Those were my first thoughts as I handed in my Unit 3 exam. Really, I felt gutted and depressed at the thought of having to go back and study for this monster exam again. I felt like I was disappointing my family, who'd seen me spend so much time preparing, and my friends, for missing a lot of fun events and maybe having to miss even more. 

If you find yourself here, have hope. Have hope that you did pass the exam, that you know your stuff. Sure, wallow for a while, but give yourself a pep talk too.

 

Is That All There Is? (cue Peggy Lee)

It's probably sacrilege to say this, but I felt both incredibly free (no more studying!), and a bit lost after the final Diploma exam. What would I do now? Now that I had all this information in my head, what would I do with it? 

It was almost like having to reconnect with the person I was when I first embarked on the program - I had to try and remember = what were my goals back then, and did they match up with my current situation.

 

Memorizing vs. Knowing

Anyone who's read the Unit 3 curriculum knows how vast and yet, detailed, it is. There's a massive amount to learn, memorize, and retain. Some regions were easy to recall, and they were the ones I had travelled to and experienced first hand.

In the months after writing the exam, as I waited for my mark (and prayed to St Jude, please let me have passed this exam!), those memorized details started to fade. I'd be asked about some obscure grape varietal or appellation, that I knew I should remember, and it was on the tip of my tongue but not springing to mind. I realized the exam was over, but the learning wasn't.

If I wanted to truly know these wines and regions, I'd have to keep working, keep reading and tasting, and especially travel to visit them. But, the wine world is so big, I'd have to get specific and focus. The new challenge became: where did I most want to go and what opportunities could I find that would take me there. 

In the months after the final exam, I went to Valpolicella, home of one of my favourite wines (Amarone), to Lodi, California, in a pilgrimage to visit the old Zin vineyards (incredible), and I'm now planning a trip to the Douro.

Where do you most want to go and experience?

 

Tasting Wine For Pleasure

Right after the exam, I found myself wanting a crisp, refreshing lager more than a celebratory glass of wine. I was a bit worried, like I might not recover the sense of wonder and flavour that had drawn me to study wine in the first place. 

Over time, the romance of wine returned to me. It became a real pleasure again to order at the restaurant, or wander and explore a wine shop. If you find yourself forgetting why you love wine, don't worry, it'll come back to you.

 

On To The Next Challenge

Just when I'd managed to put the exam out of my mind, I received my pass. If you'd talked to me right after the exam, I'd have sworn up and down - that's it for me! No more wine certifications!

But then.... the sting of the exam started to fade. The memory of those many hours preparing, and the stress, had faded. It had even begun to take on a slightly rosy glow. I think one day, I'll even look back fondly on that time ;)

What's next: well, there's the Master of Wine program. I know several of my classmates undertook the Diploma because it's a pathway to the MW - and some are already in the MW now! Personally, I'm glad I've had this year to go back over the Diploma curriculum, and the time to try to learn and understand more beyond memorization. 

Many people who take the Diploma love a challenge, and have a desire to achieve. They're curious and have a love of learning. So here's my question for you: what do you want to do after the WSET Diploma - what's next for you? Or, if you're just embarking on the Diploma - what are your goals in taking this program?

Cheers,

Rachel

STARTING YOUR WINE CAREER

One of the best things about the wine industry are the incredible people you meet, many of whom found wine and knew, that was it!

Just like you and I, they needed to make a career out of this passion. But how did they translate this love of wine into a business or profession?

Here are some wine career stories I've come across, that I hope will inspire you in your journey.

How Jancis got her start as a wine writer.

How Whitney became a sommelier

You can find more wine playlists in my YouTube channel - where I've put together videos for each wine region, to help with studying.

Do you have a video or podcast to recommend about how a figure in the wine industry got their start? Please share your wisdom in the comments!

DÉCOUVERTES EN VALLÉE DU RHÔNE 2017

Have you heard about this incredible travelling trade tour in the Rhône Valley?

Taking place this year from April 10-13, it's a great way to explore this important wine region, and open to media & people in the wine trade.

Visitors will travel from Avignon up into the Northern Rhône to Mauves, Tain l'Hermitage, and finally to Ampuis, with trade tastings and seminars at each stop. The tastings and events are free, and you'll need to cover your own travel and hotel costs. What a way to learn more about the Rhône!

A trade tasting in Avignon

A trade tasting in Avignon

Of the over 650 producers who will be at the tastings (pouring an impressive array of 4,000+ wines), you'll find wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes de Venise, Tavel, and more from the Southern Rhône while in Avignon. In Tain l'Hermitage and Mauves, you'll explore wines from Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Cornas and Saint-Peray. In Ampuis, get ready to learn more about the wines of Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu.

Not a bad spot to taste wine in!

Not a bad spot to taste wine in!

You can find out more about Découvertes and register here.

For those of us who'd like to go but can't make it this time because we're busy studying, I found an educational game in the milieu of Carmen Sandiego produced by Rhône Valley Wines, called Le Rhône Valley Club. Once you register, you can log in to learn with all kinds of activities. A fun way to review the region!

 

All images courtesy of Rhône Valley Wines.

SETTING WINE GOALS FOR 2017

Do you set New Year goals? I pulled up my 2016 goals to take a peek at what I set out to achieve, and realized how many items related to wine, including finishing the WSET Diploma.

For 2017, I thought it would be fun to set a completely new set of goals totally specific to wine, and hope you can join in with me.

Last Year's Goals

Here are a few things I worked on last year:

Train as a wine judge: One of the most incredible things I set out to do was attend the International Wine & Spirit Competition, to train as a wine judge. The WSET has a program where Diploma students can apply to attend as an Associate Judge and learn firsthand how to judge wine. The application details are available in the WSET Global portal. I flew into London for several days of judging US and Canadian wines, and it was one of the coolest wine experiences I've had. I got the news a few weeks ago that I'd been promoted to Full Judge status, and will be back to London to judge this spring. Very exciting! If you're completing your Diploma right now, I highly recommend applying for this opportunity.

Become a VIA Italian Wine Ambassador: Vinitaly Academy runs a fantastic program in Verona, Italy each year. You get five days of classroom instruction from Ian d'Agata (author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy), and a full pass to Vinitaly wine festival, along with the chance to attend exclusive tastings around the city (our class saw Sting at a private performance in a palace at OperaWine!). It was wonderful meeting wine students from around the world. I also spent some extra time touring Valpolicella, Lake Garda, and Venice, and loved my time in what's called the Second Rome (aka Verona - it has lots of ruins and ancient wine cellars under the restaurants). If you're into Italian wine, you can apply to the program here. Caveat: the exam is very tough :O

Work on a vineyard: Last summer, my husband and I bought a five acre organic vineyard in BC's Similkameen Valley. It's a beautiful place filled with organic farms and orchards, just west of the Okanagan Valley, and a 3.5 hour drive from Vancouver. The Similkameen has all kinds of wildlife (hawks, quails, bears, coyotes), and skies that are always changing due to the winds blowing in from four directions. The vineyard is a fixer-upper project, and hasn't been pruned in a few years, so I'm looking forward to learning first hand how to restore the vines to productivity, and even graft new varietals. Phylloxera isn't so bad there, so many vines in the area are own-rooted.

{Do you have a suggestion for a red grape that will do well in a windy, short season area, where it can get to 40 degrees celsius in summer? Gamay, Zinfandel & Cabernet Franc are in the running}

The vineyard in autumn. You can see the Chardonnay vines are looking a little scraggly!

The vineyard in autumn. You can see the Chardonnay vines are looking a little scraggly!

Write a book: For several years, I've been dreaming of writing a guide to the wineries of the Okanagan & Similkameen. My book Winetripping was published last summer and it was a thrill to see this project come to life after visiting and researching hundreds of local wineries. Most important was how much I learned about BC wine and wineries, and supporting those wineries by promoting visitors and wine lovers to buy directly from them!

Setting 2017 Goals

Here are some ideas for planning your own wine-related goals for the upcoming year:

Travel to _____: Where's somewhere you've always wanted to visit, to try the local wines? For me, it's Portugal, to stay in Oporto and tour the Douro Valley. 

Try _______ wine: What wine have you always read about and wanted to try, and how can you make this happen? Or, what's a wine area that you want to get to know better? I want to try older vintages of wine from classic regions (such as Bordeaux, Vintage Port, and Champagne), something that doesn't happen too often as they can be expensive - I'm planning a group tasting so that everyone can share and enjoy the wine together. In terms of regions, I want to taste more wines from the lesser seen appellations of California.

Take the ______ wine course: Is there a wine designation or course you want to complete this year? Maybe it's the final unit of the WSET Diploma, the French Wine Scholar program, or becoming a Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Somm. Maybe you're thinking of applying to enter the Master of Wine program? That's my big education goal for the year - finger's crossed!

________ wine skill: What's the #1 wine skill you want to master in 2017? It could be sabering bottles, blind tasting, learning to make wine, or working a harvest. This year, the wine skill I'm working on is learning to care for a vineyard, specifically how to prune vines.

________ wine project: Do you want to set up a blind tasting group, a wine blog, write a guidebook, or read through a wine library - what's a wine project you want to create this year? I've got an idea that has me pretty excited, and isn't that the point?

I hope this list has inspired you to write out a few wine specific goals for the year! Let me know in the comments what your 2017 goals are :) I look forward to reading them!

Cheers,

Rachel

WHAT I LEARNED BLIND TASTING WITH MW STUDENTS

This year, I was lucky to participate in several mock exams and tastings with Master of Wine students.

Not only did it give an insight into the rigour of the program, but it helped immensely with my blind tasting skills (bonus!). Sitting around a table with a group of MW students, you learn a few things quickly:

They take wine very seriously. After 'hello's', it's right into pouring and writing the mock exam in silence: 12 wines, 2.25 hours. Chit-chat is saved for after the exam. The wines are chosen in advance by someone familiar with MW exams and the types of wines you'd expect to find. Even the corks are pulled ahead, or bottles can be decanted so there are no extra clues like bottle shape or capsules. Post-exam discussion is animated. Wrong or right, you have to swallow your pride and share what you identified a wine as, so that everyone can learn together. It's often when a wine has been incorrectly ID'd that I learned the most.

Bottles & a flight from one of the 12 wine mock MW exams

Bottles & a flight from one of the 12 wine mock MW exams

They are not messing around. No staring off into the distance to ponder the profundity of wine, these students are busy swirling, slurping, and writing. Some students use a shorthand to note the technical qualities of the wine, a quick way to jot down alcohol level, body, acidity, finish etc before they write their essay. Note: they are much more specific than Diploma students, for example, alcohol is not listed as a range, it is described as the %ABV, and residual sugar is noted in g/l. Flavors and aromas are noted, but not in a flowery or stylistic way. The aromas/flavours are used more as clues to what the quality, winemaking techniques and provenance of the wine are (for example, noting use of oak, lees aging, and minerality on a sparkling wine as evidence for Champagne).

They know their appellations and producers inside & out and use logic to identify wines. I really appreciated the MW students' detailed knowledge of appellations when we discussed the wines post-exam. This level of comfort comes only with extensive tasting, reading, studying, and travel.

Things like: knowing by heart the key sub-regions around the world for each grape or blend of grapes, the way a grape varietal manifests itself in those regions (such as expected alcohol level), the aging rules for quality wines, whether a style is fortified and to what level, how a particular sweet wine is produced (noble rot, passito etc), and key producers and their house styles for each area, and much, much more. It's like the WSET Diploma to the 10th degree.

This amount of knowledge can be intimidating, but it's the base level for passing the first year MW exam. Only by knowing what to expect in each appellation could you reasonably put a wine in its proper place (for example, I incorrectly guessed a wine was Mencia, when it was pointed out to me that the alcohol should have shown higher if that was the case).

When placing a wine where you know the flight is all made from the same grape, and you think it is either Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon, you'd next want to list all the sub-regions each grape could be from. The next step is attributing each wine to the correct sub-region, using clues like the depth of color, alcohol, body, acidity etc. Very logical!

MW exams can now be written on a laptop, but my mind works best with pen & paper

MW exams can now be written on a laptop, but my mind works best with pen & paper

They use a different style/format than the WSET Diploma. The exams were in essay format, and regurgitating an analysis of the wine's acidity, flavours, and finish isn't enough to pass. The essays focused on the quality and provenance of the wines. Consider for example this set of questions on a flight of 3 sparkling wines:

Comment of the method of production, considering how this has influenced the style of the wine - Identify the origin as closely as possible - Comment on the quality level in the context of the region of origin.

While the group assured me you can pass without ID'ing all the wines correctly, you're much more likely to pass if you know exactly what wine you're tasting. These essays take wine from the theoretical into the practical too, so book smarts alone aren't enough to pass. The focus is very much on real life wine trade information, producers, sales figures, and trends, so having in depth current knowledge on the business of wine is very important.

It's been humbling and exciting to taste with a group of students at a level above and beyond the WSET Diploma. If you've been considering the MW as a goal, I highly recommend tasting with MW students. It has given great insight into the immense dedication, hard work, and significant expense in time and money (travel, time off work, buying wine) involved in this most challenging wine program. Will I apply to be an MW student next year? I'm thinking about it, but there's much more studying and tasting to be done!

Cheers,

Rachel

PS: If you've had experience with the MW program or tasting with MW students, please share your wisdom in the comments!

MY FIRST ARTICLE FOR WINE ENTHUSIAST

When I woke up this morning, it was to some fantastic news: my first article for Wine Enthusiast has been published! What a thrill to see my story on their home page:

My article on the left. Hey, there's Guy Fieri!

My article on the left. Hey, there's Guy Fieri!

When I started the WSET Diploma, it was my dream to become a wine writer, so you can probably imagine how exciting this is.

It's a story about buying our small organic vineyard in the Similkameen, and getting to know what's involved in fixing up some very overgrown vines. I hope you enjoy it, please do leave a comment on the Wine Enthusiast page.

READ THE ARTICLE HERE

Hopefully there are more stories to come!

WOMEN IN WINE: SANDRA OLDFIELD OF TINHORN CREEK

Sandra Oldfield has a list of accomplishments a mile long. There's a new one to add, she's now officially one of Canada's Most Powerful Women.

Sandra_Thumbnail.jpg

Each year, 100 women are celebrated by the Women's Executive Network WXN. Sandra was selected in the 2016 Trailblazers & Trendsetters category.

I’m honoured to be recognized as a trailblazer and have the opportunity, as a female CEO in the wine industry, to act as a role model for younger generations and my peers. At Tinhorn Creek we strive to be at the forefront of the industry; pushing boundaries and setting trends to
promote Canadian wine.
— Sandra Oldfield

Here's a selection of Sandra's achievements, which demonstrate her leadership in the Canadian wine industry:

  • After studying winemaking at UC Davis, she moved to Canada, becoming one of the only women winemakers in the country when Tinhorn opened 20 years ago - she's now the CEO of Tinhorn Creek.
  • Created BC's first winery members club that shipped direct to consumer!

  • Sandra was instrumental in the delineation of BC's first wine sub-appellation: the Golden Mile Bench, on the former gold-mining hills west of Oliver. 

  • Sandra embraced controversy to make an important point for the Canadian wine industry. Should it be easier to ship a 12-gauge shotgun or a case of wine across provincial borders?  In 2012, she proved it was easier to order the gun. Canadians owe Sandra a debt of gratitude for her advocacy on the free trade of wine.
  • Speaking of advocacy, Sandra has also been a strong proponent for clearer labelling on Canadian wine that contains grapes or juice imported from other countries, the result of which is most often of inferior quality, and sold as 'cellared in Canada'. 

  • For the past 5 years, she's run #BCWinechat on Twitter each Wednesday evening, a go-to forum for BC wine lovers, winemakers, growers, and somms to discuss a variety of wine topics.
If you need help, ask for it. Face issues head on. If you don’t start long-term goals now, you’ll never realize them.
— Sage wine career advice from Sandra Oldfield

Congratulations Sandra on this well deserved recognition. 


Tinhorn Creek

This family-owned and sustainability focused winery is featured in my book Winetripping as a key stop in the Oliver area.

They've got spectacular views across the valley from their welcoming tasting room, plus a fantastic restaurant, Miradoro, and host many fun activities on site (concerts, yoga in the vines, access to hiking trails). The wines are made wholly from their own vineyards on the Golden Mile and Black Sage Benches. 2.5% of the winery's net income supports the Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada. My favourite wines there are the Oldfield Series reds, make sure you give them a try.

 

537 Tinhorn Creek Road, Oliver BC

Open for tastings year round:

March 1st to October 31stfrom 10-6

November 1st to December 31st from 10-5

January 2nd to February 28th from 10-4

 

Images courtesy of Tinhorn Creek

DECADENT TAYLOR FLADGATE SINGLE HARVEST TAWNY PORTS

I don't remember much wine around as a child, with the major exception of Port. At Christmas or special suppers, I have vivid memories of the sweet, dark, red wine that I might have a sip of after pleading with my Dad.

In the years since, I've always kept Port in the house, and not just for the holidays. This inherited fondness might also have been the repeated references to laying down wine in JRR Tolkien.

My first true 'investment' bottles bought to start a wine collection were Vintage Port, and I continue to add several more a year with the goal of starting to open them in a decade or so. Tawny Port, which spends much more time mellowing in cask, is a particular favourite, with almost universal appeal: smooth, with caramel and spice flavours. If you're a dinner guest at my home, you're being offered Port at the end of the meal!

So, it was with particular excitement that I was invited to taste a selection of Taylor Fladgate single harvest tawnies from the vintages 1964 through 1967. Think of what was happening in the world 50 years ago, and consider that all this time these wines have been alive, just waiting to be enjoyed. 

The tasting room, holding a table decked with variously hued amber wines, was filled with Port perfume, reminiscent of a spice cake baking in the oven.

The following are my tasting notes, but first I'd like to mention, all were delicious and I'd be happy to purchase any of them even at their premium price point - they are well worth the money and would make excellent gifts. How many 50 year old wines can you buy that offer this kind of value... not many. 

Taylor Faldgate Very Old Single Harvest Port 1966.jpg

Taylor Fladgate 1964 Single Harvest Port - $256

Remarkably intense bouquet. Cognac-like nose. Fig, vanilla, plum, sweet spice, bright, lifted, wow. Crème caramel, cedar. Striking show up front.

Taylor Fladgate 1965 Single Harvest Port - $260

Orange tawny hue. Corsican wildflower honey, soft, feminine, seductive. Tobacco, marzipan. Opens up nicely.

Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port - $260

Deep amber brown. Cigar box, caramel, orange peel, pomander, roast coffee and hazelnut. Masculine, cologne-like complexity. Surprising whiff of jasmine and honeysuckle. A full rounded nose, complete.

Taylor Fladgate 1967 Single Harvest Port - $260

Deepest tawny colour. Sweet on the nose, with spicebox, cigar, clove; a robust presence on the palate. Vibrant orange and zest notes, sultanas, allspice, incense. Quiet power and confidence. 

Casks of aging Port biding their time

Casks of aging Port biding their time

Port Serving Tips

~ Ideally your Port is lightly chilled. 15 minutes in the fridge should do the trick.

~ Can you save some for later once you open the bottle? As a rule, older vintage Port is good for a few days after being opened, but best to drink it in one sitting. More sturdy recent vintages from the 2000's+ will last a week or so before fading. Tawnies are already oxidised so they hold up better, a pleasing 6 months or so after opening. Late Bottled Vintage or Ruby styles are good for 8-12 weeks before they lose their freshness.

~ Let your fancy Ports have a little room to breathe before enjoying. Give your wine an hour or so to open up before tasting. I don't make a fuss about doing this with White, Ruby, LBV, or 10/20 year olds.

~ The more the merrier. Port isn't exactly low alcohol, so explore half bottle formats for small dinner parties, or serve them to a large or appreciative group. Tawnies are an exception, as they're quite long lived once opened. I keep several formats of tawny Port on hand (10 year, 20 year, etc), to serve at the end of meals. If I were to serve one of these Single Harvest Tawnies, I'd plan a special dessert to pair with it: a selection of cheeses (Manchego, Stilton, Brie de Meaux), plus something sweet like caramel spice cake with crème Anglaise.

The History of Port by TF

Taylor's has a great selection of videos about Port on their Youtube channel.

Tidbits In The World of Port & TF

We had the pleasure of hearing from Jorge Ramos, Sales & Marketing Manager for the Fladgate Partnership (which owns TF, Croft, & Fonseca) at the tasting. Here are some tidbits for those interested in learning more about Port and TF:

  • Did you know that the Late-Bottled Vintage category was invented for the Canadian market? Apparently it was especially produced for the restaurant trade, who wanted the flavour profile of Vintage Port but with no need for further aging, ie: ready to sell and drink right away. The first vintage offered was 1965, for sale in 1970.

  • Taylor Fladgate's house style aims for a 'balanced' and consistent flavour profile. These Single Harvest Tawnies, however, are issued especially to emphasize varietal character.

  • Taylor's is the only British Port house never to be bought or sold! In 2001, it re-purchased Croft (which had been theirs previously until 1865 when it had been sold off). It's said to have one of the largest reserves of very old cask aged Ports of any house.
  • Technically, a '50 year old' Tawny Port is not allowed, so these Single Harvest Tawnies were issued vintage dated. That's why you'll see 10-20-30-40 but not 50 on shelves. PS: technically, the name for a vintage dated tawny is a Colheita

  • The best Ports TF makes are still foot trodden in granite lagares (stone troughs), not mechanically/piston trodden. This very old fashioned but gentle technique is said to produce the finest results.
  • Ports are made from a blend of 40 or so native Portuguese grapes, including: Touriga Nacional (adds concentrated dark fruit flavour and tannins), Tinta Amarela (finess and balance), and Tinto Cão (acidity, ageability), among others. Older plantings have a mix of varieties in the field, but new vineyards are uniformly planted by varietal.

  • New plantings in the Douro are using laser guided trenching to create a 7 degree angled slope to preserve water. Viticultural issues in the area are erosion and weed control, so cover crops like clover are being used.

  • Tawnies aging in cask lose about 3% of their volume each year as they rest in 600 litre neutral oak barrels.
  • Port spirit can come from anywhere, it's not required to be from Portugal. There's been a big improvement in the quality of brandy used in recent decades. 

  • When a large order comes in to TF, their master blenders produce a batch on demand. So, if a liquor board or large store sends in a request for 20 Year, it's made to order!
  • Canadian customers can keep their eyes out for a special Confederation edition of the label of the 1967, celebrating our 150th birthday. There's also an 1863 Very Old Tawny on the market, for the spectacular price of $3,650CAD!

All images/video courtesy of Taylor Fladgate. Thank you to Pacific Wine & Spirits for the opportunity to taste these Single Harvest Ports.

A NEW TAKE ON THE WINE CLUB: OKANAGANWINE.CLUB

Ivan Gonzalez of OkanaganWine.Club

Ivan Gonzalez of OkanaganWine.Club

Have you ever belonged to a wine club? It's a thrill that never fades, to get wine in the post, but sometimes that commitment can be pricy.

Is there an alternative? How about a wine club focused on local wine producers, with no membership dues or commitment to buy for members, that gives the wineries themselves a healthy profit. A win-win-win business model for the consumer, wine club, and winery. OWC have quickly amassed a solid following, with over 25,000 wine loving fans on their FB page.

Instead of collecting membership fees, they scout out and select a new winery for each offering of 6 bottles, allowing members the chance to opt-in to purchase. I love that they're exposing the wine loving public to some very delicious but under-the-radar wineries like C.C. Jentsch & Lunessence. The orders and payment are fulfilled by the winery, and members pay the winery price. Each shipment arrives with a nice write up about the winery and each of the bottles included.

Pricing is key: members aren't paying a mark-up from the price they'd pay by buying directly from the winery (most non-producer wine clubs operate on the mark-up margin plus the negotiated volume discount, whereas OWC operate on volume discount alone). 

When I heard about the cool things OkanaganWine.Club were up to, especially the promotion of niche BC wineries, I reached out to co-founder Ivan Gonzalez to chat about the club.

Q What drew you to starting OWC? How did you become interested in BC wine?

Many things drew me to start OWC. Personally the fact that I wanted to provide a service that would empower local wineries and help develop the local wine industry. 

During my college years I volunteered at the WestJet Wine Festival and realized that there was a huge demand for local wines. I later tasted some leftover wine from the event and was surprised by the quality.  

Q How did you develop your wine tasting skills?

WSET 1, plus I literally go out to the wineries and speak to winemakers, local somms, and chefs. Each one of them has taught me something. Last time I counted I had visited 90% of wineries in BC. The secret is to ask, listen and pay attention to what you are tasting. I also have mentors that introduce me to new wine. 

I'm really impressed with your commitment to visiting the wineries, it's something I'm very passionate about as well.

Q What are your customers’ favourite wines, are you seeing a trend towards any particular styles?

Tricky question. I do see trends but I immediately try to avoid falling into that. The idea of OkanaganWine.Club is to provide a platform where people can comfortably order wine that they have not tried, and discover. So if I see a trend, I try to bring a different style of wine to keep them on their toes. Saying that, the only trend I really have noticed are people tasting wine that they had no idea about or thought they wouldn't like and end up asking for cases.

Q What changes have you seen in BC wine over the past several years?

I must say I'm not a veteran in this industry but from the two years I have been involved, I've seen many changes. Wineries are discovering that there is an online market and people are realizing that BC's wine regions are producing some very high quality wines. 

Congratulations Ivan on your success, and I look forward to seeing which winery OWC will be featuring next!

To find out more, visit okanaganwine.club / Instagram / Twitter / Facebook

USING STRATEGY TO PREPARE FOR WSET DIPLOMA UNIT 3 THEORY

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. 

W-W-W-W-H

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,

Rachel