Addicted to the Consumption of Wine Knowledge

I have an addictive personality. I don’t mean with drugs. (just in case Mom is reading this) I mean with activity – if that is such a thing.  You hear about adrenaline junkies, I guess I sort of fall into that realm. I am never happy with the status quo. I am always looking for my next adventure, and when I find it, I jump in with both feet. As my family has told me frequently, “You never do anything half-ass!” I believe in doing the best I can, no matter what the situation is. I enjoy success, I thrive on it. If I can’t dedicate 100% of myself to it, I tend to not start it.

Way back in the day, when I was still working in a lab, I was bored. There wasn’t enough action looking at microorganisms all day long. So what did I do? I created a competition. In the morning, I would set up all my plates. (Plates are filled with nutrients for microorganisms and you have to label them so that you know what you are looking at) Most times, I was preparing over 500 petri dishes to plate.  I would go to lunch, come back and set a timer and compete against myself for how fast I could pipette out the organisms. I know, I may have a problem!

Now that you have a glimpse into my personality, let’s fast forward to how this all relates to wine.  When Mike and I decided to open the winery, we wanted to learn as much as we could. Being a food  scientist and a microbiologist, one would think we had it under control. But we weren’t happy relying on our science background, we wanted specific knowledge.  So we enrolled in the UC Davis winemaking program. All you needed was a B- in order to continue through the program, but I, nor Mike, was having any of that. We worked hard, we studied hard and we maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout the program. Upset with ourselves if we didn’t receive a 100% on a test or a paper. (Mike may have a problem too!) 

Five years later, I was reaching my “what else can I do?” limit, and decided I would pursue wine education in a different realm. I decided to sign up for the WSET Global program. This was a completely different challenge for me. For the first time, my knowledge would be challenged in a non science way. I was excited (and nervous) to begin my new adventure and I would share my journey here, in case anyone was also thinking of pursuing this path. 

Choose Your Level

I was in a unique situation in terms of timing. The class I signed up for was the last class that was being offered as a combination of Wines and Spirits.  WSET has now separated the program into different classes each specializing in wine, spirit or sake. Because of my background and hearing other’s comments, I decided to skip Level 1 and dive directly into Level 2 Wine and Spirits. 

Signing Up

This is the easy part. There is a plethora of ways that you can sign up.  If you visit WSET Global website, you can easily plug in your location and see which classes are being offered in your area. You can choose between in person weekly classes, online- study at your own pace courses, intense immersion week or weekend classes. I am not putting any other method down since each one has its own merits. You need to know which method is best for you. 

For me, the weekend intensive course would never work.  With my personality, sitting still for two or three days straight and being fed information is equivalent to torture. My listening skills shut down after about an hour. The online course would be an option, except I would have to go out and get the bottles of wine to sample and I  just don’t have the time to hunt for specific bottles. The in person 9-week program was the best option for me.  It would entail eight weeks of class and the final week we would sit for the test. 

Class is in Session

Upon arriving to the class, we were handed a folder filled with all the ammunition  we would need to conquer the class. There was a workbook, a textbook, the WSET approach to tasting and a syllabus. The classes were two hours each. The first hour would be spent covering multiple chapters in the textbook followed by an hour of tasting six wines. The first two weeks were generalized concepts of wine such as how food and wine effect each other, quality and price, and how to read a wine label. 

Examples of wines from the first two weeks include San Pietro Pinot Grigio from Alto Ridge, Mazzi Valpolicella Classico from Veneto, Domaine Huet “Clos du Bourg” Vouvray from the Loire Valley and Crauford “kilt Lifter” Zinfandel from Napa Valley. As you can see the wines we tasting during these weeks were designed to introduce us to different styles throughout the world. 

The following six weeks were dedicated to varietals.  You could tell there was much thought into the pairing up of the varietals, as they aided in the learning of the regions by how they were put together. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir was teamed up, of course, as were Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. 

Each session took us through the general characteristics of the grapes and how they are expressed differently in the regions that grow them. As an educator, it was easy to see the rhyme and reason of why the classes were broken up the way they were. 

The Goal

WSET has specific goals  for each level of certification. For Level 2 their qualification aims to:

For individuals seeking a core understanding of wines, this qualification explores the major grape varieties and important wine regions in which they are grown. You’ll learn about the styles of wines produced from these grapes as well as key classifications and labelling terminology. A basic overview of the key categories of spirits and liqueurs will also be provided.

While you are going through the program, there is plenty of information out there to help you understand what they are looking for in order to pass. Everything you need to know about the layout of the test, recommended samplings, a sample test (which I will say was a lot easier than the actual test) and the regulations can be found here

How I Prepared

I am going to preface this section, with a reminder of what I stated at the beginning of this post: 1) extremely competitive and 2) never do anything without 100% dedication. 

I was not concerned with passing. In all honesty, and I apologize to anyone who has not passed, but the question must be asked what were you doing during the classes if you were unable to receive a 54% on a fifty question multiple choice test. I believe anyone who signed up for this class has some basic understanding and love of wine that they can get 26 out of 50 questions correct. 

Our instructor told us that if you wanted to pass, all you needed to know was what was bold faced. It wasn’t passing that I wanted, I needed to pass with Distinction! That meant that I needed to get a minimum of 85% or no more than six questions wrong. (I am a bit confused how anyone could get an 85 when each question is worth 2 points… but that’s another story) WSET has three levels of passing; as I mentioned a score of 85% and above means you pass with distinction. The other two categories are passing with merit for a score of between 70% and 84% and a score of between 55% and 69% is simply passing.

So here is what I did. First, I read the text book cover to cover twice, highlighting anything I thought would be of importance. This included all the bold text and a lot of other information. During the class, I took notes in the study guide, but in all honesty, did not use those notes that much. 

About three weeks prior to the test, I sat down over a weekend and made study cards. I made 452 of them! In the corner of each card, I wrote what chapter the information was from. Each night, prior to going to sleep, I went over the two chapters worth of cards. This may be tough to explain, but this is how I did it. Night one; went over chapters 1 and 2 note cards.  Night two reviewed note cards from chapter 2 and learned chapter 3. Night three; reviewed chapter 3 and learned chapter 4 and etc. 

After going through all twenty chapters, I started searching the web for any and all practice tests. I downloaded what I could and practiced them over and over. Adding to my note cards if there was something that wasn’t already included.  At this point, I realized that carrying around all these cards with me was ridiculous, so I turned to technology. 

There is a free app called Quizlet. (the web version can be found here) It was developed to help teachers and students but anyone can use it.  I transferred all my information from the note cards to the virtual cards. This helped again in retaining the information, but also made the cards portable. In the end, I had six sets of cards; Grape Characteristics and Descriptions, Matching Regions to Variety, WSET Review Test, WSET 2 Practice Test, and WSET MC questions, and WSET 2  for a total of 735 virtual note cards. (please feel free to use my cards if you decide to go through the program. I’d love to know they are helping others pursue their passion in wine.)

The final week prior to the test, I continuously reviewed the cards on my phone. Over and over and over. The app lets you create little quizzes for yourself and allows you to play games, so it is a little more fun than just staring at an index card. 

The day of the test arrived, and I did not look at a single card. As I tell my students all the time, if you don’t  know it now, you never will. I find trying to jam more information into my brain just before a test back fires on me. So I like to try to relax before, and that is what I did. I got a pedicure before the class. 

As it turns out, my studying paid off. It took 8 weeks for me to find out the results, but when I did, I was ecstatic! I scored a 96% – I passed with Distinction! Of course, I’m completely annoyed that I don’t know which two questions I got wrong! But again, that is a different story and again maybe a bit too much of a glimpse into my personality.

That night, I celebrated the best way I know. I sabered a bottle of Champagne! If you work hard, you have to balance it by knowing how to have fun too! Because as we all know..

What’s Next?

That’s a tough question. I don’t know what is next. Right now, I know I don’t have the time to put my 100% into Level 3. I won’t say I will never take the class, because I know myself pretty well, and I have to think at some point, I’m going to want the challenge. That’s the beautiful thing about life… you never know what opportunity is going to knock on your door next. 

~Sláinte!

Please follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can also find me on YouTube and if you are interested in wine pairings, follow my other blog, Wine Pairing with Dracaena Wines. And don’t forget about my FREE wine education series, Winephabet Street. Sláinte!

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8 thoughts on “Addicted to the Consumption of Wine Knowledge”

  1. Congratulations on passing with Distinction! I’m with you on the missed questions – I would want to know what I missed (and never get it wrong again!) Maybe WSET will take the suggestion for future students.

  2. I love this glimpse into your study methods! I am studying away to take the CSW test and was looking at WSET next (fitting the live classes into my schedule is très difficile!) . This gives me such a better understanding of the WSET 2.

  3. When I left the exam room I remembered the 3 questions, I thought I got wrong. I did end up missing three questions but I, too, have no idea which ones I missed and I forgot to make a note of my doubts immediately after the exam. This will haunt me.

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