Earning Wine Certifications in the Time of COVID

There’s no doubt that it has been a tough few months for the hospitality industry and all of those who rely on it for income and livelihood. This includes those of us in the wine industry who also work in events and consulting. Overall, the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have been devastating for many when it comes to employment and income opportunities.

While we have all been ordered to stay home or shelter-in-place, there have been other opportunities that have been presented as “blessings in disguise” so-to-speak. Through my otherwise busy life pre-COVID, I had been putting off earning additional wine certifications. Admittedly, over the past year, it has been hard to find time to sit down and study. That is until this pandemic took over and shut everything down. Nothing like the whole world fighting a novel disease to clear your calendar a bit.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to (finally) take the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) 2 certification course through Florida Wine Academy over a six-week period back in April and May. Completing this course in order to move on to others has been something on my mind for a while now. Though I’ve earned several different certifications through other organizations, WSET seems to be the international gold standard when it comes to wine education for non-sommeliers.

Florida Wine Academy adapted their usual in-classroom educational method to an online one in order to safely administer the course, and the adaptation was absolutely seamless. Each week for a couple of hours, I joined a Zoom meeting with about 15 others, and we listened to lectures, tasted, and chatted about that week’s lesson. The wines for each session were made available for purchase through Florida Wine Academy’s wine shop, 305wines.com so that each student had the opportunity to taste along with the class, though substitutions were allowed as well. It was on these lecture days during our lockdown that we shared a night of reprieve from the monotony of working from home and shelter-in-place; a night to join fellow wine lovers and students in learning and discussion.

WSET also adapted for the changing times and allowed students to take the final exam online–with many precautions in place. The organization was adamant about maintaining the integrity of the exam by putting in place requirements for taking the test at home, including using your smartphone to record you as you sit for the exam to ensure that your eyes do not wander to places they shouldn’t. Frankly, the setup for the exam took longer than actually taking it, as there were many steps required in order to make sure your test station was free of opportunities to cheat.

The exam for WSET 2 is only 50 multiple choice questions that follow the exact guidelines and information provided throughout the course. The sessions are taught to the exam. When comparing with other organizations and certifications, I would say that WSET 2 is very straightforward and the format and language break down each concept in a simple way. Perhaps it helped that I have now been writing about wine for several years, but the information presented is very basic. It is truly a course for those who would like a foundational understanding of main wine regions and grapes.

For those who are located in South Florida and interested in pursuing wine education, I would highly recommend taking your courses through Florida Wine Academy. Alessandra Esteves and her team of wine education professionals are thorough and knowledgeable. Classes are well managed, and you have many resources available for you to ask questions, study, taste, and meet other wine students who are on a similar path.

How was your experience with WSET? How do you think this certification compares to others? Do you have any questions about the course?

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