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.