Photos By:: Subhash Arora
I was tasting with my friend Subhash Arora, President of Indian Wine Academy, on 19th February at the Chianti Classico Collection in the Stazione Leopolda in Florence when I learned, with some satisfaction that the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico would launch a brand new project and open an Academy in the beautiful and lovingly renovated former 18th century Santa Maria al Prato Convent in Radda in Chianti. Magnificently restored during 10 years of meticulous and artistic renovation this ancient convent will become a new cultural hub devoted to the culture of Black Rooster territory and its wines.
Here, wine courses will be given for both beginners and experts at various levels ranging from a basic 3-hour course to a full 3-day course. These educational courses will be organised, conducted and taught by the British 'Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)' , the Academy’s international partner. This is the first ever winemaker’s association in Italy to launch a project devoted exclusively to disseminating knowledge about its territory and the products of its denomination.
The WSET are to play a vital role so what are they, who are they and where do they come from? I was greatly entertained when I discovered that the Academy would be presenting itself at a Press Conference during the vast Classico tastings in the Stazione Leopolda through Ian Harris and James Cluer. Why did this amuse me so much? Because James was my student when studying for the Master of Wine Exam: he is now a professional teacher.
Cluer passed the MW exam in 2004; I had passed mine in1970. James is the mover and shaker and teacher of the new Academy, I have known Ian Harris for over 20 years and we have the same English Wine Trade background. He is the big boss of the WSET, the President, and responsible for wine trade education throughout the world. We went off to dinner together when they had finished their work and enjoyed some splendid 1997 Chianti Classico together with a Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
The WSET was founded in London in 1969 to respond to the Wine Trade’s acute need for knowledge. This may be very young compared to the Black Rooster who dates from 1716. But, it has exploded exponentially during the last 43 years and today flourishes worldwide. As I have said above, its aim and object was to disseminate wine knowledge to the UK Wine Trade, where at that time the better and more quality minded wine companies were starting to appreciate the finer points of fine wine.
From 1990 WSET qualifications became international and known and accepted internationally – to start with in Canada the USA, Japan, and strangely enough France. By the year 2000 it was 25% international but still 75% UK. Today it is 75% international and only 25% UK, with education courses held throughout the globe – indeed in no less than 60 countries now that Italy has come on board with the Academy. Especially eager for knowledge are the USA, Canada, China, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. I believe it is quite popular in India as well.
To press home the point about its success there are today no less than 500 centres where the courses are held and no less than 43,000 candidates sat an exam in 2012. The Association is 4 times larger than it was 10 years ago and the thirst for wine knowledge by emerging markets knows no bounds.
Today the courses and the exams are not confined to the Wine Trade alone as they used to be. 30% of those who sit them are simply interested consumers. The theory is that the more they learn the more they know, the more they know the more they appreciate wine and the more they appreciate wine the more they will buy finer and therefore more expensive wines. Education is a win-win situation and very much in the interest of the Wine Trade.
Ian Harris runs a tight ship. All the material used on the courses; books, slides, films, etc., are kept fully up to date and reflect changing rules and regulations in all wine producing countries of the world. Lecturers are chosen with great care, not only for their knowledge, but also for their ability to put this knowledge across to the students in a friendly, explicit and attractive way.
The exams are 'robustly' administered (Ian Harris’s words). James Cluer, taking over the microphone from Ian Harris, said that the WSET and he as chief organiser were very proud to be so deeply involved with the first such education centre in Italy. James runs 14 education centres in California and has immense experience. He also consults and teaches for airlines and runs wine tours to France, Spain and Italy.
In his personal opinion a relatively small investment by Chianti Classico and the WSET should reap massive returns and he earnestly hopes that many members of the Consorzio will respond and support the new Academy. Both the President of the Consorzio, Sergio Zingarelli, and the secretary, Signor Liberatore, vigorously supported both Ian and James and said that they were sure that the Academy would quickly make its mark on the Black Rooster and have a great future in front of it.
John Salvi, Master of Wine
Tags: Chianti, Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), Master of Wine, Black Rooster, Chianti Classico