Notes on starting the WSET Diploma

Posted By Chris Kaplonski on Oct 13, 2015

Yesterday I started the WSET Diploma. I may or may not do a running commentary on it as it progresses over the next two years. That depends on other obligations and time commitments. Nonetheless, I thought a few thoughts on it seemed in order.

The first day was scary, enlightening, humbling, scary, and occasionally encouraging. I alternated between ‘What did I get myself into?’ and ‘Yeah, I can do this.’

The first part of the day was a sort of outline and what to expect. This was one of the scary bit, since it included pass rates for various modules, some of which hover around the 50% mark, as I recall. (My notebook is at home, and I’m in the office – if I’m way off, I’ll correct this.) Others were in the 70-80%, or even higher, but at least one other was around 60%. Enough to be somewhat worrying. But then I’d stop and think. The main difference between Level 3 and the Diploma, we were repeatedly informed, was a) depth of knowledge expected and b) application of knowledge. Spitting back facts wasn’t going to be enough at this level. It was much more about reasoning and use of facts. Every time someone said something about a wine, they were expected to be able to back up their statement.

I actually found this encouraging. I teach at a university that is generally regarded as Pretty Good. I like to think I’m a competent academic. I’ve published articles and books. I can think and apply facts. (Usually.) So, assuming I can get a grip on the data, applying them to make an argument is the sort of thing I do for a living. For the trickier parts of the Diploma, there’s still quite a bit of time until the exams – two years for the part on still wines. I can learn the knowledge by then. I hope.

I found the section on the Systematic Approach to Tasting very useful, and encouraging. We spent about three hours going over four wines. Appearance of all four. Nose of all four. Palate of all four. And so forth. But more importantly, we learned tips that I wish someone had told me back at Level 2 or 3 – ways to judge if a red wine is pale, medium or deep, for instance. Thinking of a five-point scale as a three-point one that is then expanded. It almost seemed easy by the end of the three hours.

I also found it encouraging since it confirmed something I’m claiming in an academic article currently under peer review at a journal. I’ll leave it vague for now, so I don’t steal my own thunder. But there were multiple points where I found myself noting down not only what we were being taught, but ethnographic observations as well.

Finally, it was humbling to see the depth of knowledge on display there. Not just by the tutors, but everyone else in the class. I clearly need to get myself back up to speed on tasting wine and writing notes. But there is time. And I think I’ll survive.

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