It was 17:30 in the evening; I was listening to ‘Begin the Beguine’ by Ella Fitzgerald and I finally jumped on the Piccadilly line. It was the rush hour and I found a spot to squeeze in with my small bag and two boxes of wine glasses. I could feel the weight of the flashcards in my pocket. I suddenly noticed that I had a big smile on my face. I couldn’t believe that my journey as a wset diploma student was over.
After few months, I received my official results informing me that I passed. Soon after, I began to receive messages from current or potential diploma students, asking questions about the program. Therefore, I wanted to share my experience and my humble advices for those who want to embark on this tough journey.
So, what does WSET Diploma Program consist of?
This intense program takes two years and consists of six different modules: The global business of alcoholic beverages, wine production, light wines of the world, spirits of the world, sparkling wines of the world, and fortified wines of the world. According to Wset’s official website, students need to study approximately 600 hours 118 hours of which is in the classroom or online. I didn’t count the hours but it definitely felt like 600 🙂
How is it different than Wset Level 3?
At Level 3, one needs to learn about different wine styles from various wine regions in the world and introduction to winemaking and viticulture. When it comes to Level 4, the required knowledge is in more detail. However, the major difference relies on the fact that, the expectations are not limited to wine style of a certain region. One needs to know the history of the country, the cultural and political aspects and recent trends. Furthermore, it is crucial to know the big players in the market (or in a certain region) and their role in the industry.
‘I am not working in the wine industry, can I still do it?’
If one is nerd enough to pass Level 3, I am sure it wouldn’t be a problem :-)! People who work in the wine industry have the luxury to be acquainted with the trends. So this means that those who are willing to take this program might need to spend relatively more time. But in the end, it’s just a question of commitment. It is certainly doable.
How to prepare?
Commitment: Wset Level 1 and Level 2 are simple and provide basic knowledge in wine and spirits. Level 3 courses give details about the wine regions and different wine styles. It requires an intense study program before the exam for more than a month. However, when it comes to Level 4, the program takes two years and needs long-term focus and commitment. One needs to make sure that he/she has enough time and energy.
Discipline: I am sure all of you have 15-20 minutes to check the news in the morning on your way to work. Well, for two years, you should get used to checking certain websites like Decanter, Drinks Business every day. Companies merge, new brands come up, regulations change all the time. In Diploma exams, it is not about putting the names of sub regions and grape varieties on the page. It is important to be able to give real life examples and this can only be achieved by having an idea about what’s going on in the industry.
Repetition: Well, this is where flashcards pop up! I personally used flashcards to memorize fundamental information. Never put so many words on them. Their role is to give you hints to remember. They will be your best friend on the bus or train. Instead of reading a book or playing candy crush, you’ll read them again and again. Keep them in your pocket until you leave your coat in the next room for the exam.
Keep in mind that flashcards are enough to pass Level 3 but not for level 4.
Write: Once you memorize the regions, the sub regions, the grape varieties, here is what you need to do: You have to write down the bullet points of the history, the recent trends, the production level, the sales in volume and in value and the major players in the market. And guess what? You need to write all of them again and again. The scariest part, especially for spirits of the world and the fortified wines exam is usually the producers. I never forget the feeling I had when I saw the question ‘Suntory’ in the exam. So make sure that you are familiar with the major producers and groups. Make sure you can justify it if your statement is: ‘they are big in Japan :-)’
Taste: When I started the program I was still living in Istanbul and I was freaking out about the tasting session. It is not possible to find a wide range of affordable wines and the city is not full of wine bars. However, after few months, I was relived to find out how mathematical approach saves your life. Learn the systematic approach of tasting by heart. Don’t be lazy to write notes for every single wine you taste. In the end, when you look at all the aspects of the wine on paper, it is a matter of bringing the components together to find the answer. You might not be able to guess the origin of the wine each time. The expectation is to be on the right track with logical comments.
Enjoy: Overall, the idea is to enjoy the program. I enjoyed having a reason to go to London regularly and discovering different musicals each time. I enjoyed watching videos about Nelson Mandela while I was studying South African wines or reading old newspapers about Champagne Riots from 1911. This is not only about wine and it is not a program you can complete just because your boss wants you to. It is about seeing how this program creates a way to discover much more than wine.