ready, wset, go

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Full disclosure: what follows is shameless promotion.

After a quarter century of writing about, reviewing and tasting wines professionally (that is, I get paid for it), I’ve come to understand that the best regional winemakers, at least in this country, are those individuals who have traveled widely and tasted as full a range of wines as possible. Global palates I call them.

It’s fine for the 12th generation winemaker in Beaune or Chinon or Tuscany to focus on regional terroir and family history; here we don’t have that luxury. The best winemakers in Washington, without exception, go out of their way to taste wines from elsewhere. Many travel to regions that connect to their personal interests and specialties. They all have global palates.

I’ve been fortunate, through my work, to be able to do quite a bit of traveling and tasting. But many of the up-and-coming wine industry professionals in this state have not. Programs such as the two year Eno-Vit studies at Walla Walla Community College necessarily focus on local wines and vineyards; as they should. And throughout eastern Washington, there seem to be fewer opportunities to experience a broad range of wines from overseas than there are in the big cities.

Which brings me to WSET. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust is a London-based enterprise that offers a series of educational and tasting courses designed specifically to set your palate on the global path. These courses are valuable to anyone contemplating making, selling, or marketing wine. They will also greatly enhance your appreciation of your own wine collection, even if you have no intention of joining the trade.

They ultimately lead to qualifying you to enroll in the Master of Wine program, for those who want the full Monte. In truth, being a bit old school, I looked askance at the WSET program at first, as I do at many such credentials. Then I studied the materials and took the exams myself. It’s good stuff.

Let’s face it – any artist must learn the basics before stepping out and doing something truly creative and unique. Check out the paintings that Picasso was knocking out in his late teens if you don’t believe me. Or listen to the first couple of Dylan albums, where he is doing his best to channel Woody Guthrie. You want to make great wine, or get your MS or MW, or simply know what you’re tasting? This is a great place to start building your database.

Under the auspices of Fine Vintage Ltd, a Vancouver, B.C. business with the North American rights to the WSET training program, I will be teaching beginning and intermediate classes in Walla Walla starting this fall. The beginning course is concentrated in a single, long day; the intermediate course spread over three days. These are the only WSET courses being offered outside of Canada, Seattle and the Bay area. Once you have taken the course, you may sit for an exam that will qualify you for the appropriate certificate and the opportunity to advance further up the ladder. Whether you do so or not, your palate will be globalized.

If there is any shallow water in the WSET pond, it is their rather thin coverage of the Pacific NW. No worries there; I’ll fill in as much as you wish. I am very excited about this opportunity, and I hope the program will receive the support it needs to get off the ground and to continue on a regular basis in eastern Washington. I encourage you to visit the websites listed below, ask questions, and consider joining me on this educational adventure. I promise you it will be worthwhile.

1 comment:

Keith said...

Hi Paul, Love the new blog and hearing more from you lately.

I live and work internationally, and wanted some advanced education on wine. As I looked around I found programs or clubs that were local only. Maybe they tasted global wines, but the extent of their "school" was only the city or country they set up shop in.

Then I found WSET, based in London but with a truly global reach. I took the Foundational and Intermediate in Singapore (where I'm living now). And expect to take the Advanced this year either in London, Singapore, or maybe Walla Walla if you offer it as an intensive!

I found that people from the USA aren't as aware of WSET as people in other parts of the world are (Europe, Asia). It's an excellent system. I found it to be a bit French-centric, but it's turned out that going much deeper into wines of France has helped me understand the wines of the rest of the world.

I'm glad you're bringing in WSET. Best of luck!

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