Notes on the WSET Diploma, Week 6: Exams, exams, marketing and beer

Posted By Chris Kaplonski on Nov 24, 2015

This was a fairly big week. We had our first exam, I got the results of my feedback tasting exam from some weeks before, marketing turned out to be fairly interesting, and some of us socialised.

The main point of the day – I don’t want to call it a ‘highlight’ – was the Unit 2 (Wine Production) exam. It was 100 multiple choice questions to be done in 90 minutes. I feel confident that I passed, although perhaps I should take heed of Mongolian traditions here; it is considered bad luck to speak of good things that haven’t happened, since you might draw the attention of malevolent spirits or otherwise bring bad luck. I hope I did better than just a Pass, but that I’m less sure of.

Someone asked me on Twitter how I felt having that milestone (presumably) behind me. My flippant answer was ‘relieved that I can now forget about root stocks.’ They just aren’t very interesting, no matter how important. I gave the question some more thought later. I wouldn’t say I’m happy or excited or anything. Rather, it makes the whole thing seem more real, somehow. What I mean is that up until the exam, yeah, I knew I was a WSET Diploma student, and I was going up to London on Mondays for the course. But it always felt like there was a disconnect between the process and the larger meaning. But having (presumably) checked one of the boxes that needs to be checked along the way somehow made the commitment seem more real.

It was also a bit of a rite of passage and a bonding event. The group has gradually been opening up over the weeks, but after the exam, it was even more so. Partly it was simply comparing answers and what we thought about the test. But at a more fundamental (anthropological?) level, we had been through something important together – a sort of ritual – and one things rituals do is help create a sense of belonging.

After the exam, one of the guys from The Other Table suggested that the group of us that was chatting go for a drink. It was traditional in the other WSET courses he had taken, he insisted. After an exam, a drink. So the four of us (the other three all from The Other Table) went to a near-by pub and had lunch. (For the record, I had something called ‘Dead Pony Club Pale Ale’. How can you not try a beer with ‘Dead Pony’ in the name?!) We chatted, we commiserated, we socialised.

Then we went to learn about marketing. Lo and behold: there was a slight change from who usually sat at what table. Perhaps it was being in a different room. Perhaps it was the aftermath of the exam. But another turning point in sociality. It remains to be seen if the changes last.

Marketing was more interesting than I expected, and gave us (or at least me) a new way to think about wine. Issues like the fact that many consumers think in terms of varietals, which aren’t a brand. So how do you position yourself? Just another Cabernet Sauvignon, which might at least get the people who know they like that variety? But the same people might not feel loyalty to any particular brand, but just the variety. But if you focus on brand, what if people don’t realise it is the variety they like? We also had a workshop, where my group had to figure out how to market a German Riesling to consumers, who aren’t particularly fond of German wines. We had fun, but we also had a tendency to think of ideas that would probably be banned for being too appealing to children, such as a cute animal on the label. Whoops.

As a final note, to follow up on the title of the post, I also got back my tasting feedback exam. I managed to eke out a Merit, which was nice, particularly for the first feedback exam. None of the comments or suggestions on what to do were anything I could really object to. Hopefully I can do at least as well when it comes to the real tasting exams.

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