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How to Find the Right Wine Course for You

With the correct tools, how you find the right wine course can be simple. Luckily, I’ve been there, and done that. Now, I’m writing the ‘blog’ book series on finding the right wine course for you to make your decision less arduous.

My first post in the series is called the 5 Most Important Things You Should Know Before Taking a Wine Course. If you are just starting your search to find the right wine course, you should read that first.

Recently, I conducted interviews on dozens of respondents and wrote an in depth review of the major wine schools.  Through this, I realized a couple of key pieces of information still needed to be addressed.  Here they are.

online wine courses
How to Find the Right Wine Course For You

What I learned from interviewing dozens of people about their experience with wine courses...

Most wine schools such as WSET, ISG, CMS, and SWE leave it up to approved program providers or localized schools to offer the courses for them. As a consequence, the course curriculum and examinations are centralized from the head office. While on the other hand, the delivery of programs within the schools vary greatly.

Therefore, many respondents felt that one school or another was boring. Perhaps, it didn’t offer enough support or practice quizzes for their students. For these reasons, some experienced better satisfaction rates after switching schools.

But through these conversations, it’s clear to me that no one school is guilty. It is completely dependent on where you go and who your instructor is. Because on a flip note, other respondents said the exact same thing about the opposite schools.

Boil it down and I’ll conclude that experiences are based on the individual instructor or approved program provider they register with. Accordingly, this was not a reflection of the head school in itself.

For example, if students received practice exams, it was often at the behest of their instructor who took the time to create them. Hence, it was not usually something the school headquarters facilitated. (The exception to this is the Society of Wine Educators who sells flashcards and practice exams through Amazon).

 

Students’ satisfaction was also very much intertwined with the other people enrolled in their class. This fact is an anomaly; you can’t choose who you will be placed with. However, you could ask some questions about the types of people who enrol with the school beforehand.

 

With this knowledge in hand, here are my generalized tips for selecting the right wine course for you.

 

SommWine's Tips

How to Find the Right Wine Course for You

#1 how to find the right wine course for you

Find out who the other students in your class are. This is one way to ensure you find the right wine course for you!

Students’ satisfaction of wine courses is dependent on who the other people in their class are.

For example, if you are studying wine to improve your career outlook, then you will want to be in a wine class with other people who work in wine.

This is easy if you enrol in a sommelier school. Sommelier schools train people to work in restaurants only. Therefore, most sommelier schools require students to be working in restaurants. It’s a prerequisite for the course. This way, you will find like-minded individuals. They can share floor examples of how to deal with a grumpy customer, or how they overcame the challenge of opening wine bottles with dried out corks. 

However, if you work in the broader wine trade (for an importer or for a winery), you should attend a wine school such as WSET.

For myself, I choose WSET even though I was working in restaurants. In that event, this was a great fit! Many of my classmates also worked somewhere in the wine industry. Others worked in restaurants too. This increases your wine network to be sure.

But one respondent registered for a class which only had wine enthusiasts in it. This wasn’t optimal as she was preparing for a career in wine. She ended up missing the comradery that comes with sharing experiences while studying with other people in the trade. Ergo, she missed out on how to apply wine skills to the real world.

Now, you can’t chose who will be in your class, but you can ask the school if there will be others in your class who are there for the same reasons you are – no matter what they are.

 

Research your instructor to find the right wine course for you!

It’s clear the instructor has everything to do with maintaining the interest of the learner. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. But, I’ll take that next logical step in advising you to do your research on the instructor before enrolling.

Because for me, wine is fascinating. But the topic can cause you to fall asleep if you don’t have an engaging instructor.

For this reason, researching your instructor first is one of the best ways to find the right wine course for you!

Use social media (facebook wine groups, etc) and hunt down someone who has actually taken the course with that instructor. Did they fall asleep in class?

Do a background check on your instructor. Use google to find out what their wine work history is. Do they have experience making wine in a winery, in the importation of wine, or in ordering wine for a restaurant?

If your instructor has experience in one of the above areas, (and their classes are interesting), then I say, you’ve got a green light for registering for the class.

On the flip note, if your instructor only has retail wine experience, make sure the retail store they worked in features fine wines and wasn’t simply an inexpensive liquor mart. Otherwise, they will not have the experience working with the right brands to offer enough insights in the class.

Does the course come with practice quizzes and extra support before the exam?

It may come as a surprise to you, but often schools provide no extra practice before the exam. Practice tests are imperative to finding your weaknesses. They also introduce you to the structure of the questions being asked.

Perhaps the extra support comes in the form of an online wine facebook group where you can ask questions outside of classroom hours. Practice quizzes aren’t the only way to help students pass their exams.

Either way, a great way to find the right wine course for you is to choose the one which offers the most additional support. So ask!

image of a woman with arms open overlooking Provence wine region
Finding the right wine course for you means making sure your instructor is engaging with the material

Find out which wines will be tasted in the course.

If you are taking an in-person course, make sure the wines chosen for tasting are inspiring. Developing your palate requires the instructor to chose the best possible examples that reflect the lesson you are learning. With the myriad styles and the huge range in quality within each category, it’s easy to have poor wines that do not reflect the lesson in your class.

Therefore, to find the right wine course for you means the school has to buy the best wines that reflect the lesson.

In my experience, I’ve had a wine instructor who chose crappy wines for the course. Every tasting we did, he criticized the wines, every wine. Now, I’m glad he recognized they were poor examples, but he should have had the best examples for us to learn from.

Wine classes are already so challenging. More to the above point, if the instructor doesn’t recognize the highest quality wines that are representative in each region, you won’t be able to either. Note however, that choosing the ‘best’ wines does not mean selecting the ‘most expensive’ wines.

Now, that’s not to say, I haven’t messed up once or twice in my wine selections for a lesson. I have! Sometimes, you pick a new vintage that doesn’t show the way you expected it to. Or sometimes, you pick a wine that you’ve never tried before, but whose tasting notes look like what you need. But then, it’s not.

So, I addressed the elephant in the room. I apologized to my students and explained why that wine shouldn’t be there. But, this is the exception, not the rule. Furthermore, this is how it should be in your classes as well.

To find out the quality of the wines in the course, you will have to speak with students who have taken the course with that instructor.

Sometimes, the school will publish the wines you will taste in class. If you know someone who is experienced in wine, have them check the list. Nonetheless, background checking the wines in the course will help you find the right wine course for you.

If your instructor only has retail wine experience, knowing the type of store they worked for is important

One more hint in regards to point 4. You should be a little more choosy with instructors that only have retail experience. Not all retail stores are created the same.

What store did they work in? Did that retail shop specialize in fine wine, rare wines and top quality hard-to-find producers? Or was it simply a basic liquor mart focused on inexpensive wines. Only store clerks with experience with fine wine sales will make the best wine selections for your learning experience in class.

For example, one respondent’s instructors were all from retail in the same state government liquor store. So they didn’t really have experience on actually selling wine as everyone in that state had to buy from them.

In this situation, the wines chosen for class were not the best, classic examples of the regions. It’s hard to develop your palate if you don’t have the top, classic wine styles.

What do I mean by classic wine styles?

Wine regions develop a flavour to their wines because of the history, traditions in viticulture and winemaking, and grape varieties that evolve slowly over time.

There will always be wine producers who make wines in a renegade fashion. These are wines that are made outside of the tradition of the area and results in a noticeably different flavour profile. Perhaps they use new oak barrels for ageing the wine. This will add more body with vanilla and baking spice aromas and flavours. Or perhaps they blend in 15% of recently introduced grape variety to their wine.

A good wine instructor will make sure you taste only those wines that are from traditional producers made in the classic fashion.

Or, check on the recommended tasting samples for your online course...

If you are taking an online course, make sure that the lessons come with recommended wine samples for you to try at home.

I would even take this one step further and suggest the list should give descriptions within the category to aid the experienced store clerk you know to pick your wines.

Therefore, instead of simply Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand listed, a couple more bite-sized chunks of information should be present. For example, the wine suggestion could include (no lees ageing, stainless steel ageing only, the most recent vintage, residual sugar at 5g/l or less, low to mid-priced.)

Of course, the above may be too much information for you, the student. Truly, that may be too much detail to ask for in an online course, but the course writer should know that every Sauvignon Blanc from
Marlborough won’t taste the same. Therefore, wines should have one or two criteria listed after each.

A qualified wine store clerk should be able to read that and assist you to make sure you are getting the flavour profile required for the lesson.

Before you buy, you can ask for a sample of the recommended wine lists from the online school and see for yourself.

Your experience depends on YOU!

Finally, finding the right wine course for you depends on YOU!

For this reason, take the reins!

In your first class, bring a paper and pen. Get the names of any of your classmates who want to be in a tasting group with their email information, and start a group that meets 4x or 2x a month. You’ll want a column for them to write down the times they are available. Do it!

Multiple groups can form based on that one document. To that end, take a picture and share it with your classmates. Accordingly, those whose schedules match can organize a place to meet.

Your class will have a list of recommended wine samples. You’ll need to get a system down for e-transferring funds to one person who picks up the wines. Select stores who employ other wine geeks. They’ll be happy to place the bottles in individual paper bags, swap out the corks, and label them with numbers.

 

wine bottle in a paper bag for blind tasting
Wine bottle in a paper bag for blind tasting wines

Practice, practice, practice! Finding the right wine course for you can only be a successful endeavour if you put the time into it.

Summary

Finding the right wine course for you takes a great deal of effort. Hopefully, these 5 tips on how to find the right wine course  will streamline the process.

If you have taken a wine course, leave tips for our readers in the comments below!

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