You’ve started to learn about wine and find yourself thirsting for more knowledge. Choosing a wine course can be challenging, especially with so many options these days.
Selecting the right wine class depends on your goals:
1. Is it to become more knowledgeable as a wine drinker and to increase your personal enjoyment of wine?
2. To find a new hobby that you and a friend or partner can pursue together?
3. To learn more about various wine regions in order to plan gastro-vacations?
4. To make a career change or start one in the wine industry?
I’ve always felt that wine could be the organizing hub in a liberal arts degree, with spokes emanating out from that liquid core for courses in culture, science, geography, history, commerce, art, religion and philosophy.
Wine is also such a versatile subject, whether you want to skip along the surface like a flat rock over the lake and just determine the styles you like to drink, or to take a deep dive into viticulture, terroir and winemaking science.
You can start with one-off classes offered by recreational departments and local liquor stores, or seek out a 10-week introductory course like those offered by community colleges.
There are also professional sommelier association courses and programs, such as those offered by the Canadian Association of Sommeliers (CAPS) and the International Guild of Sommeliers (ISG).
There are also specialty classes, such as those offered for those who want to become wine importers, or at least learn about wine importing for personal pleasure.
When choosing a more in-depth wine course, what should you look for? According to Ryan Campbell, an ISG graduate:
1. The structure and breadth of the course.
2. The budget for the wines to be tasted in class.
3. The history and credentials of the instructor.
4. The reputation of the organization as a whole, worldwide.
5. The pass rate for full completion of the program.
One of the most respected programs is the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), headquartered in London, UK, but offered by qualified instructors around the world. The WSET program Levels 1-3 are designed for wine professionals and enthusiasts alike.
In Ottawa, the program is offered by Martha Kelly AIWS, CS (Certified Sommelier), director of Capital Wine School, who is a graduate of the program’s highest level, the WSET Level 4 Diploma with the post nominal designation of AIWS, Associate of the Institute of Wines and Spirits.
“My WSET studies have given me the confidence to pursue my wine industry career with the confidence that my education is of the highest standard,” Martha says. “My fellow classmates, as well as students past and present are finding opportunities in the industry that didn’t exist for them before.
Those who have completed the Algonquin Sommelier Program may start the WSET Program at Level 3. You can contact Martha via her site to find out when her next sessions start, both for the entry-level WSET 1 and for advanced standing based on previous courses.
Current WSET grads hold leadership positions in the Canadian wine industry and abroad, including wine directors at top restaurants, wine sales manager for large wine agencies and wineries, wine importers, winemakers, wine educators, liquor store product consultants and managers.
For those who want to take wine education to the highest levels, there is the Master of Wine and Master Sommelier programs, both requiring years of study. It’s rigourous, but I challenge you to find a subject where the research and the study is more enjoyable.
Let me know what courses I should note below in addition to those already mentioned in this article.
WSET Level one which is a one day course builds a strong foundation in wine styles, wine-making, key grape varieties, wine service, and food and wine matching principals. The exam consists of multiple choice questions only.
WSET Level 2 is a course studied one afternoon per week for 8 weeks and focuses on “looking behind the label” to fully understand wine, styles, labeling terms, and building on tasting technique while generating professional tasting notes. The exam consists of multiple choice questions only.
WSET Level 3 Provides more comprehensive coverage of the wide range of wines and spirits around the world. The qualification has an increased focus on wine tasting technique. This is a 14 week course of study, one afternoon per week, culminating with an exam that includes two blind wine tasting papers, and a combination of multiple choice, and short-answer theory questions.
Successful candidates at every level earn a certificate and lapel pin corresponding to their course of study.