Q&A: HOW TO STUDY FOR LEVEL 3 WSET EXAM?

WSET Level 3 Review

Q: Hi Rachel, I've got my Level 3 WSET exam coming up in three weeks and don't feel ready for the theory portion. We tasted a lot in class and I feel good about my tasting ability. After procrastinating for so long on theory maybe I should just reschedule the exam. What do you think, can I still pass?

A: Thanks for your question! I can definitely relate to your situation. When I was studying for Level 3, it was while I was on a summer contract as a yacht chef. I stayed up late to get an hour or two of reading and flashcards each night, but the exam was coming up fast. 

If you can devote a solid block of time each day to your studies, and even more for the week prior to the exam, here's an intensive, fast track plan for your studies.

The #1 challenge here will be to maintain a consistent study practice. This schedule is rigorous but doable, if you are doing a bit each day. If you miss a few days, it will be very difficult to catch up without losing sleep. 


Reading & Note Schedule (WSET Understanding Wines textbook)

Below is the full schedule, but before you jump in, I wanted to share a sample of my notes from the latest WSET textbook for Level 3. I allow myself 5 minutes per page, and that means writing fast! I jot down only the key information from each page.

For this note on Beaujolais, I spent less than 5 minutes for the two pages. Yes, that's really quick but you'll need to be going at a pace like this to get through the ~200 pages of material. 

Title your sheet with the region name, and reference the page numbers.

Give your notes headings so you can easily review later on. Also, draw graphics, such as the hierarchy for Beaujolais. Making sketches like this help you to retain the information.

 Drawings and sketches in your notes help you to retain the information 

Drawings and sketches in your notes help you to retain the information 


Week 1 - Read Section 3: Still Wines of the World & Take Notes

This week, you'll cover the still wines of the world from Understanding Wines.

Day 1: pg 77-89 (Introduction to France, Bordeaux, Dordogne & SW France, Burgundy)
Day 2: pg 90-107 (Beaujolais, Alsace, Loire, Rhône, Southern France)
Day 3: pg 108-119 (Germany, Austria, Tokaj, Greece)
Day 4: pg 120-138 (Italy, Spain)
Day 5: pg 139-155 (Portugal, USA, Canada, Chile)
Day 6: pg 156-172 (Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)
Day 7: Flex Day - Take a break or review your notes!

Week 2 - Read Sections: 4, 5, 1, 2 & Take NOTES

This week, you'll work through the remaining sections from Understanding Wines.

Day 1: pg 173-183 (Sparkling Wine)
Day 2: pg 184-195 (Sherry, Port, Fortified Muscats)
Day 3: pg 1-18 (Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine, Wine with Food, Storage & Service of Wine)
Day 4: pg 19-32 (Vine, Growing Environment)
Day 5: pg 33-54 (Vineyard Management, Common Elements in Winemaking & Maturation)
Day 6: pg 55-70 (White & Sweet Winemaking, Red & Rosé Winemaking)
Day 7:  pg 71-76 (Factors that Affect the Price of Wine, Wine & the Law)

Week 3 - ReVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW

Devote as much time as possible to your review this week. Remember to get up from your chair each hour to stretch and drink water. Most importantly, get proper sleep each night to be in your best form for exam day.

Below is a sample of how I review before an exam. Taking the WSET Level 3 Specification, open it to the topic you are reviewing. Take a blank page of paper and brainstorm what you can remember for the given subject. Check against your syllabus, and review your notes from weeks 1 & 2 to refresh your memory.

 Refer to the Level 3 Specification as you review

Refer to the Level 3 Specification as you review

Day 1: Review Section 3 - France, Germany, Austria, Tokaj, Greece
Day 2: Review Section 3 - Italy, Spain, Portugal, USA, Canada, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand
Day 3: Review Sections 4, 5, 1 - Sparkling, Sherry, Port, Fortified Muscats, Wine & the Consumer 
Day 4: Review Section 2 - Factors Affecting the Style, Quality & Price of Wine
Day 5: Review Sections 3 & 2
Day 6: Review Sections 3 & 2
Day 7:  Exam Day

EXAM WEIGHTING BY LEARNING OUTCOME

Some of the WSET material reads like a stereo manual, so I've parsed through it to decipher what exactly they'll be focusing on in the exam. The five major topics (aka 'Learning Outcomes') are:

Learning Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} ID the principal natural and human factors in the vineyard and winery that are involved in the production of still wines of the world, and explain how they can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.
Learning Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD} ID & describe the characteristics of the still wines produced in the principal wine producing regions of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery, law and commerce can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.
Learning Outcome 3: {SPARKLING WINES} ID & describe the characteristics of the principal sparkling wines of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery, law and commerce can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.
Learning Outcome 4: {PORT/SHERRY/MUSCATS} ID & describe the characteristics of the principal fortified wines of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery and law can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.
Learning Outcome 5: {WINE RECOMMENDATIONS/WINE FAULTS/FOOD & WINE PAIRING/SOCIAL & HEALTH ISSUES} Demonstrate the ability to provide information and advice to customers and staff about wines.

SHORT ANSWER QUESTIONS

There are four short answer questions on the exam, at 25 marks a piece. Below, you'll see the possible topics.

Takeaways:

-Short answer questions relating to Sparkling and Fortified can appear on only one of the four questions (Weighting 20%)

-Vineyard/Winemaking topics will come up on all four questions (Weighting not specified, assume 100%)

-Still Wines of the World topics can come up on three of the questions (Weighting 70%)

-Wine Recommendations/Wine Faults/Food & Wine Pairing/Social & Health Issues can come up on two of the questions (Weighting 10%)

 These are the materials being tested for the short paragraph questions in WSET LEVEL 3 exams

These are the materials being tested for the short paragraph questions in WSET LEVEL 3 exams

MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS

Remember, you only need 55% to pass, and a third of your theory mark will be made up of multiple choice questions. This means that if you have a familiarity with the textbook, this section should be straightforward (and yes, you should go with your first instinct for multiple choice, unless you are sure you should not change your answer). 

There are 50 multiple choice questions on the exam. Below you'll see WSET's breakdown of the exam topics.

Takeaways:

Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} 16% or 8/50 questions

Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD} 56% or 28/50 questions

Outcome 3: {SPARKLING WINES} 10% or 5/50 questions

Outcome 4: {PORT/SHERRY/MUSCATS} 10% or 5/50 questions

Outcome 5: {WINE RECOMMENDATIONS/WINE FAULTS/FOOD & WINE PAIRING/SOCIAL & HEALTH ISSUES} 8% or 4/50 questions

 These are the weightings for the multiple choice questions in the WSET LEVEL 3 exams

These are the weightings for the multiple choice questions in the WSET LEVEL 3 exams

The lesson here if you are very short on study time, is to cover everything, but in particular give focus to Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} & Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD}.

If you would like more help with your studies, be sure to check out my Level 3 Theory Prep course, which is chock full of flashcards and review quizzes for the curriculum.

Best of luck with your studies and let me know how it goes!

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel

STUDENT Q&A: FROM ADVANCED TO DIPLOMA, TASTING GROUPS, & PASS RATES

WSET Advanced to Diploma

Q: Dear Rachel, I am a very keen amateur. I love wine, I read Decanter and others, subscribe to Jancis, and just passed Level 3 with Distinction. But the more I learn the more I realise what I don’t know…

Would you recommend that one has read all of the source material you mention prior to the course starting? 

Is it OK to launch straight in to Level 4 or should I do something like a French Wine Scholar and/or Italian Wine Scholar and/or Spanish Wine Scholar first to deepen my knowledge of those regions and improve my tasting; or is the structure of the Level 4 course such that it’s perfectly OK to jump straight in?

Do you think I will need to organise/join a tasting group outside of the classes?

Do you have any sense of what the success rate is typically at Level 4, and should I take the January or June exam?

A: Great questions here! I’ll do my best to answer.

I felt the same way as you after completing level 3. Fascinated, wanting to learn more, but questioning whether the expense and time commitment would be worth the investment. It’s all about learning what you don’t know that you don’t yet know!

For source material, I re-read my level 3 textbook before starting, and did a leisurely read through of the Wine Atlas & Oxford Companion to Wine. I didn’t take any notes at this point, just a read-through to refresh my memory, and also to get a lay of the land before starting the Diploma classes.

I went straight from Level 3 into the Diploma. My instructor always said about the difficulty and amount of knowledge we would acquire moving through WSET: Level 1 is like jumping onto a phonebook, level 2 up onto the countertop, level 3 is the rooftop of a house, and level 4 is a rocket into space!

The leap between Advanced and Diploma was a bit startling at first, but I adjusted to the new workload quickly. 

The level of detail and command of facts at level 4 is a big jump from 3. That being said, I do not believe it is necessary to take additional courses before entering the Diploma (although I’ve heard positive feedback about the FWS/IWS and wouldn’t dissuade you if you’re interested in a particular field). My thinking was to get through the Diploma right away, learn as broadly as possible, then continue to learn about the areas I found particularly fascinating. Now that the Diploma is completed, my eyes have been opened to the regions and wines I find most interesting, and I feel I can make well informed decisions about investing in more education.

In terms of tasting, the changes in abilities at beginning and by the end of level 4 were huge. On day 1, our instructor poured us several flights of two wines. In each flight, one wine was high quality, and one was basic quality. By a show of hands, our class was to show which we thought was the premium wine. There was no consensus, and I remember feeling concerned that I couldn’t identify quality. Within a couple of months, and with more practice, this exercise became much more successful.

I strongly recommend a tasting group outside of classes. The students whose tasting skills progress the fastest and became strongest are those who are blind tasting in a regular group outside of class (either weekly or every two weeks). I think trying to taste on your own, or solely in the classes will put a damper on your progress, and in the case of tasting solo, can greatly add to the program’s expense.

I have looked at the individual unit pass rates for Level 4. In my Diploma class, which is admittedly a rather small sample, about half the students who started together passed together (about one third quit the program or paused their studies). The toughest unit is #3 (theory), with the lowest pass rate, and the easiest to prepare for, in my opinion, is unit #2, which is a good unit to start with (partially due to the material, and partially due to being multiple choice). For Unit 3, I recommend writing the June exam sitting rather than in January (the pass rate is higher for this month, I believe in part because it is hard to study through December holidays!).

Here is an approximate average of pass rates for each of the units for the results of years 2010-2015:

  • Unit 1 CWA 88%
  • Unit 1 Case Study 75%
  • Unit 2 91%
  • Unit 3 Tasting 70%
  • Unit 3 Theory 42%
  • Unit 4 59%
  • Unit 5 73%
  • Unit 6 65%

Cheers & Cin Cin, Rachel

PS: do you have feedback on the FWS program? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

BLINDTASTING Q&A: FINDING FLORAL IN WINE

Finding floral notes in wine

Q: Dear Rachel,

My weakness in tasting is uncovering the florals...do you believe in those smelling kits they sell online?

 

A: When I blind taste a wine and sense a floral component, I'm always happy to get such an important clue AS to what the wine could bE.

For tasting kits, I have used the wine faults version, which I found very useful. It's challenging to find example wines demonstrating the different types of faults.

I haven’t purchased the kits with a wider selection of notes, as I believe they are very expensive and the flavours/scents can be found at a variety of sources. Of course, if your budget allows, and you want to try out the kit, have fun and let me know what you think of it!

As you meet to blind taste wines each week, consider bringing along some of the following supplies to nose after you taste.

Floral ideas: my first stop would be the florist or market, but I’m including some other ideas here for you too. The flower notes to try and smell are: jasmine, rose, elderflower, citrus blossom, lavender, chamomile, & violets. Yes, I'm the strange woman closing my eyes and smelling each of the flowers at the store :O

Beyond the grocery or market, I’d pop in to an essential oil store, plant store, or perfumier (such as Jo Malone, or a perfumer that specializes in individual notes) to smell or taste the following: Elderflower cordial/syrup or St Germain liqueur, chamomile tea, dried lavender sachets, orange/lemon plants in bloom, rosewater, & candied violets. For the scent of garrigue, try dried herbes de Provence (the kind with lavender flowers in it!).

Liqueurs, essential oils, and distillations do a nice job of capturing these floral scents in isolation, so if you can't find the fresh version these are a great source (for example, it's much easier to find fresh citrus blossoms in winter than summer).

When I smell a wine, I find that the floral note will often be the ‘top note’ or first item I note on a wine showing white floral character, and on reds showing violets/lavender that I catch it at the beginning of the nose or at the end of the palate. 

Here are some example floral notes - feel free to add your suggestions in the comments and I'll include them here:

~Nebbiolo: Rose

~Syrah: Violet

~Prosecco (Glera): Elderflower / Wisteria

~Moscato Bianco: Citrus Blossom

~Rhône reds: Herbes de Provence

~Brunello (Sangiovese): Violet / Lavender

~Gewurztraminer: Rosewater / Rose

~Riesling: Jasmine / Chamomile / Elderflower

~Torrontes: Floral Soap

BLINDTASTING Q&A: PRIMARY, SECONDARY, TERTIARY FLAVOURS

blindtasting for wset diploma

Q: Hi Rachel, I'm having some trouble with blind tastings in picking out primary, secondary and tertiary flavour characters.

For example, characters such as nutty I find difficult to pick out, and dried fruit could be be either primary, secondary, or tertiary. How do you differentiate?

A: The way I learn to pick up flavours and aromas I personally find challenging, is to taste examples that show very high intensities of that item.

For example, I was having trouble picking up on VA (volatile acidity), until I tasted a Chateau Musar red. Now I associate VA with that wine, and the scent of a freshly opened bag of dried fruit! Once you develop a flavour memory, it becomes much easier to identify that note in the future.

My rules of thumb when tasting, and deciding on primary/secondary/tertiary: if I’m getting mostly ripe fresh fruit, neutral, or citrus/floral character, it’s youthful/primary. If I’m smelling and tasting mostly winemaking notes (especially oak/oak spice/toast/vanilla/nutty, MLF/lees stirring/cream/butter) along with fruit I slot it into secondary/developing, and if it’s dominated by earth, spice, leather, nuts, tobacco, or faded/dried fruit, but no fresh fruit, it’s tertiary/developed.

For your questions on nuttiness and dried fruit, I’d start with an example that showed each.

Nutty notes: I often get this where oak or extended lees aging is showing up in the glass (secondary), an aged/oxidative style of white like white Rioja (tertiary), and often on fortifieds that have seen extended aging in barrel like tawny port, darker sherries, Rutherglen muscat etc. I sometimes taste a fresh almond quality in wines made from Marsanne (primary).

WINES: I’d try an Oloroso or Amontillado sherry, as I often get roast nuts on these wines (even though it’s a fortified, I think sherry is a good place to start for ID’ing nutty in non-fortified wines), and a white Rioja from a traditional producer.

Dried fruit notes: I pick up dried fruit in three main ways - where it’s dried out on the vine in a hot windswept climate (such as in Lodi) and some of the berries have raisinated, which can be primary in a youthful wine. Or, where the grapes have been dried for appassimento style wines which have a sweet raisin-y note (secondary), and in older or oxidized wines where what was once fresh fruit has faded to a softer earthier dried fruit note (tertiary).

WINES: There’s 'youthful' Amarone for picking up secondary aromas (winemaking) of dried fruit. A good quality Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel or McLaren Vale Grenache, which can have great intensity of primary wind dried/ripe fruit on the nose and palate. For tertiary dried fruit, I'd taste an older Chianti, or if you can get an older Amarone, that would make a great comparison with a younger vintage (secondary vs tertiary).

Cheers,

Rachel

PS: Have a blindtasting tip for differentiating between primary-secondary-tertiary, or a new question for me? Comment below!

BLINDTASTING Q&A: LENGTH & FINISH

blindtasting q&a.jpg

Q: Hi Rachel, I have a question about tasting.

What are the elements of “Long length”?  When do you say it has long length? Is it the acidity? Or tannins? Or Alcohol?

A: Great question.

When I think about a wine’s length, it’s all about how long after it's spit out/swallowed that pleasant flavours of the wine linger on the palate.

When I spit out a wine, and right away the taste fades or turns sour/bitter/sickly sweet etc, that’s a short finish. 

If the flavours echo through my palate for a long time, and I can still sense the wine after it's gone, that’s a long finish - and if it’s in between those two, then it’s a medium finish.

Some wines linger for what seems an age, and those are the best!

I believe balance has a lot to do with length. If a wine is too hot with alcohol, or has thick rustic tannins, or unbalanced acidity, it can’t have a long pleasant finish. A wine that has those elements in harmony, along with complex flavours, can achieve long length... and long length is a hallmark of a high quality wine.

Cheers,

Rachel

PS: leave your blindtasting comments and questions below! I'll answer them in this ongoing Q&A series.

WINE CAREER Q&A WITH JOANNE DIGESO

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 SommWine.com.  

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 @sommwine.ca and feel free to leave your comments and questions below.

Cheers, Rachel

WINE CAREER Q&A WITH MATTHEW LESLIE

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

WINE CAREER Q&A WITH COLINA MARSHALL

This is the first 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 Colina, who was a superstar in our WSET Diploma classes.

Q Congratulations on achieving the WSET Diploma! What’s the biggest improvement you’ve seen in your wine-abilities since completing the program?

A: Thank you! I would say that the biggest improvement I have seen is my ability to speak to wine in a way that everyone can understand. At the winery we are constantly explaining the winemaking process to people of all levels of wine education and it’s really fun to make that approachable for all. I feel like I can do that in a correct, and in-depth way due to the diploma training, while still making it interesting and approachable. 

Q Which unit did you find the most challenging and why?

A: Unit 3 was definitely the most challenging for me. I think it’s because of the sheer volume of knowledge expected and the minutiae of regions that I previously didn’t even know existed, like the wines being produced in Japan, Romania and Croatia. One of the biggest obstacles is not falling into the so-called ‘rabbit-holes’ and remembering to always think of the entire world of wine. 

Q How did the Diploma compare to WSET Level 3, and was there anything that surprised you about the curriculum?

A: I remember at the time when I was taking WSET Level 3, I felt so intimidated and overwhelmed. This was especially true for me as it was the first time I had done a blind tasting under exam conditions. Comparatively to the diploma, now, it feels like it was a piece of cake. I think the most important difference for people considering the diploma coming out of Level 3 is that the Diploma demands a large piece of your time, I would not recommend having a full-time job while doing it, if you can keep your work week to <20 hours, do it. It’s not only having the 10 hours/week, to devote to studying, it’s having the time and energy to fully immerse yourself, not to mention the group tastings that are invaluable.

Being a part of a tasting group is one of the best tools I was fortunate enough to have, but it does take a time commitment. The other aspect that requires more time is sourcing the wine. While I really LOVE shopping for wine, it can be a bit of a challenge when you’re looking for some of the more esoteric pieces, luckily Calgary is such a great market there were few things I was unable to taste. 

Q You did very well in the program. Could you share your favourite study tip? {I believe I remember you mentioning writing notes on different surfaces!}

A: Forgo everything. I mean everything. Take whole days where you literally eat, sleep, study, nothing else, have meals prepared in advance for this. For the days when you can’t do this I ended up writing study notes on my glass shower door and also on my sliding glass patio door. For a while I had all of the major appellations in Burgundy listed on my shower door so I could memorize them in the mornings. Always be running through the pieces of information that are memory work, whether it’s in a line up at a grocery store, while you’re driving, always keeping them top of mind. 

Q What was your career/role while going through the program, and what do you do now? Did having the Diploma factor into getting your new job?

A: Ha, this is a bit of a loaded question for me. When I decided to start the programme I was a server at a restaurant in downtown Calgary, moved to another restaurant to manage, then went back to serving at a different location (as I didn’t have the time I needed to commit to the programme), subsequently took on a role managing a wine boutique and the time needed to study disappeared again, so as I had initially budgeted I was able to take the last month and a half of the diploma off of work to focus on studying.

After the programme I was at a crossroads. Do I stay in Calgary, the city I was born and raised in with an amazing wine culture and incredibly informed and passionate professionals? Or do I try something completely different and see the production side of the wine industry? My curiosity took me to the Okanagan where I am now employed at a working Vineyard/Winery as a tasting room and administrative assistant.

The Diploma factored into the new job as it really sparked the curiosity wanting to know more, but also has a significant amount of weight when an employer sees it on your resume. I was fortunate enough to have several options to choose from before deciding which vineyard/winery I would be working at. 

Q Can you tell me a little bit about a typical day at the winery? What’re the best and most challenging parts of your role?

A: If there is one thing I know, there is no typical day at the Vineyard/Winery. Being a part of a small team is always a quality I have loved in the roles that I’ve had, the versatility of the role and the teamwork that goes into it is motivating. Since I started almost 3 months ago I have done a range of tasks including website development, hosting tastings in our tasting room, suckering vines, bottling, shipping, balancing accounts, making arrangements for the new on-site vineyard vacation rental and, oh ya, removing snakes and birds from the tasting room. Everyday is a new adventure truly, and the variety is amazing. 

Q You recently moved from the city to wine country. What’re your favourite things about living in the heart of the Okanagan?

A: It was a big change, and to be honest it is in line with a lot of my values. I have always tried to eat local as much as possible, where in the city that can almost seem like a novelty at times, here it is just a way of life because of the amazing access to local products. The trail systems here are outstanding, there is never a shortage of activities to fill your time with. Really, if you get the opportunity to move to paradise all you can say is ‘yes!'

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Thank you for reading, and thanks Colina for your most excellent responses. You can follow Colina on Instagram @colina.k.marshall or Twitter @colina_marshall.

Please leave your comments below, I love reading them!

Cheers, Rachel