There is a spate of WSET courses being offered in India now but I had considered the possibility of doing the Advance Certificate and Diploma to meet the future demand for wine education six years ago but decided against it since they involved spirits tasting as well. As a wine-only person, I refused to do or conduct the courses- I’d rather it be WET.
Although there are several possibilities of learning about wine through various educational programmes throughout the world (even small cities in wine producing countries offer courses in winemaking and viticulture at various levels including college degrees and diplomas) but University of California, Davies campus and Adelaide University in Australia stand out for us because of the English language and very high standards.
However, UK with its deep wine drinking roots has had a great influence on wine education. One such channel is the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) which conducts courses throughout the world at various levels: Basic, Intermediate, Advanced Certificate and Diploma. Clearing each level entitles the person to teach all lower levels, thus perpetuating the teaching and learning.
WSET has hooked up with IMW (Institute of Masters of Wine) and a Diploma holder may be enrolled to work for the MW (not the only route though) which is considered an ultimate in wine education. (I am consciously avoiding the Court of Master Sommeliers and Society of Wine Educators as another subject for future).
During my visit to the London Wine Fair several years back, I had met the Director of WSET to look at the possibility of doing the course and then preaching it. I pitched for special prices as the cost of books and the exams seemed too high for Indians paying in £s at over Rs.70 a pound. No such luck! I went and bought the books for levels 1 and 2, costing me a pretty packet. The text books looked rather elementary (you can do Level 2 directly but as you go higher, you need to finish Levels 2 and 3, respectively) but I was disappointed to see that Level 2 involved tasting of spirits, even as the book had interesting and useful information.
For purely personal reasons, I didn’t imbibe spirits then- I don’t do it now. Strange though it may appear to most people, I wasn’t going to start drinking or tasting liquor just to do my exams. So I decided against pursuing the course for myself. I found company several years later, last week when I read about the master blaster Sachin Tendulkar turning down an offer of a liquor ad that would have earned him Rs.200 million a year because he refuses to promote alcohol!
I feel that WSET should follow different streams for wine and spirits. There is nothing wrong for anyone doing both the streams but it is not fair for a wine specialist to be forced to go through the spirits too. I know of a winemaker who has done the Diploma (Level 4) but found it difficult and equally unnecessary to go through the spirits tastings as they have no place in his career as a winemaker, but he was obliged to do it as he had no choice.
Mercifully, wise Master of Wine (MW) rightly does not require the tasting and study of spirits but only wines-including fortified wines. That getting the highly coveted diploma, is not an easy target to achieve is an understatement-less than 300 people have it throughout the world. I often say that learning about wine is an enjoyable journey and one lifetime is not enough to learn enough about wine. I am very happy to have earned a couple of wine-unrelated Masters in the US (MSIE and MBA). I also have the good fortune of having quite a few MWs as my friends.
There is always the next lifetime to try and earn an MW. But in this life-time..I’d rather be WET.
Cav. Subhash Arora MSIE, MBA
I believe WSET has since come down from their high horse- and lest you wrongly conclude that I do not support WSET, I recently organised a WSET-Level 1 course for the members and guests of the Delhi Wine Club and will possibly organise Level 2. I do hope WSET considers Level 2-4 only with wines- like IMW. As an example, Society of Wine Educators in the US has two streams- CSW and CSS- Certified Specialist in Wine and Certified Specialist in Spirits are two independent streams. Most wine connoisseurs choose the former while those who need to be beverage professionals may choose the later as well. Subhash Arora