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 over 60 video playlists for each wine region and type of fortified and spirit, to help with your 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

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

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

THE WSET DIPLOMA: IS IT WORTH IT?

 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,

Rachel

 

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.

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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