WSET stands for Wine & Spirit Education Trust and it’s the largest provider of wine, spirits and sake qualifications in the world – a WSET qualification is globally recognised as a mark of professional knowledge. It took me 32 years to find out about it, but once I did, there were about 12 hours in between hearing of its existence and booking a day release course for the WSET Level 1. Granted, I was hungover and needed to pick myself up and do something productive, but the night before the door to the world of wine had been opened and there was no closing it.
A wine tasting at a client’s restaurant finished (just as it was starting to get lairy, as they do!) and the wine trainer had to shoot off to another event – a swanky wine dinner with Ken Forrester, known as the Chenin Blanc king. On the spur of the moment, I was invited to join. I ate delicious food and drank wonderful wine, and met wine lovers, wine experts and winemakers; the room buzzed with a shared passion and the hum of subtle intoxication. Then, less subtle, as the evening went on, and then really quite unsubtle and pretty debauched! (There were also Japanese toilets somewhere along the line, which were a novelty to all of us.)
As I listened to Ken tell us about the story of his vineyards, something unlocked – I realised that there was so much to know about wine and I wanted to know it all! I felt like I’d had a peek into a magical and mysterious world.
The WSET Level 1 was the first real step into this new land, and it provided a great foundation of wine knowledge. There were some things I already knew, which were affirmed and built upon, and there were some things that were totally new to me, like grape varieties that are the same but are called different names. The tutor was fantastic and really inspiring – like me, she had been a schoolteacher, and her passion for wine led her to do supper clubs on the side, which then led her to undertake the WSET qualifications, and eventually to give up teaching children to teach adults about wine instead! A very smart career move, if you ask me!
It also opened up my eyes to all the different careers you could have in wine. On the course, there were people who worked for restaurants and wanted to be sommeliers; there were wine buyers for supermarkets; people who worked at wine merchant stores who wanted to know more about what they were selling; people who wanted to open their own wine bars, and also people who had always just wanted to know more about wine. I took a one day course, which was ideal, and at the end of the day, you take a multiple choice exam. A couple of weeks later, I found out I passed (hold the applause – it was super easy and the pass rate is incredibly high!) and enrolled onto the WSET Level 2 a few months later.
You can actually enrol straight onto Level 2 without doing Level 1 at all, but it’s more of a time commitment, as well as a financial one, so unless you know you really want to do it, I’d personally recommend doing 1 first (it costs £169, at the time of writing). Level 1 is also great for wine enthusiasts who don’t plan on embarking on a career in wine, who just love wine and want to know more.
I start my Level 2 in May – to WSET and beyond!