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Posted: Sunday, 29 April 2018 11:36

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WSET finally gets WET and SET from August 2019

April 29: The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) has revamped its flagship diploma qualification programme as part of several changes to its educational schemes that will also see the launch of a level 3 spirits course, with effect from 1 August, 2019, writes Subhash Arora who refused to do the courses since Spirits tasting was mandatory and still believes they should lower rates for countries like India to educate many more people

During my visit to the London Wine Fair about 12 years back, I had met the Director of WSET to look at the possibility of my doing WSET 1 and WSET 2 and then educating hordes clamouring for the education. I also pitched in for special prices for students in India as the cost of books and the exams seemed to be too high for Indians paying in £s-then  at over Rs.70 a pound sterling- now around Rs. 100.

No such luck! Anyway, I went to their office and even bought the books for levels 1 and 2, costing me a pretty packet. The text books were rather elementary (you don’t have to complete Level 1 to do Level 2.) But I was disappointed to see that Level 2 involved tasting of spirits, even though the book had useful information.

Being a Vinotaler (Teetoler drinking only wine), I refused to taste spirits due to personal reasons. I didn’t imbibe them then and don’t do it now and am an avid wine promoter for health reasons and lower and natural alcohol in them I wasn’t going to start tasting liquor just for the diploma  So I decided against pursuing the course. 

I wrote a Blog several years later in 2010, wondering why WSET could not split the course into two streams- WET for wine only and SET for spirits. There was nothing wrong for anyone doing both the streams but it was not fair for a wine specialist to be forced to go through the spirits tasting too. I know of a winemaker who has done WSETdip (Level 4) but found it difficult and unnecessary to do the spirits tastings as they had no place in his career as a winemaker.

My friend Charles Metcalfe, an avid reader of delWine and a perfect English gent, commented then, ‘could the clue be in the name, Subhash? It's the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. When you visit their headquarters in London, there are ample signs of financial support from the Spirits industry. I'm not involved in the WSET, so don't know exactly how it was set up, but I suspect it was a joint initiative by both wine and spirits industries. And not so long ago, the WSET courses were only open to people working in the wine and spirits industries.’

He also added, ‘however, like you, I would favour separate streams, for wines and for spirits. But it could be that lack of funding from spirits companies would then make it less possible to run wine courses. Debra Meiburg MW was more direct in supporting me as she commented, ‘I like your thinking Subhash. The spirits chapters in the intro course were as much as I want to know about those critters. Spirits give me goose bumps!’

Years Later comes the change

Several years later, in 2018 wisdom seems to have finally prevailed over the organisation which has announced fundamental changes in the course material from August 1, 2019. Mercifully, Master of Wine (MW) does not require the tasting and study of spirits but only wines-including fortified wines. Incidentally, I am very happy to have earned a couple of Masters at the University of Minnesota in the US (MSIE and MBA) as a teetotaller- totally unrelated to wine. I also have the good fortune of having several MWs as my friends.

Spirits delinked from wine

From 1 August 2019, coverage of spirits will be removed from the diploma qualification and from the WSET Level 2 award in wines and spirits, with the WSET introducing a new level 3 award in spirits instead.

The WSET said the changes would allow ‘more in-depth coverage of wine’ in a new Level 4 diploma in wines, with other changes including the introduction of a new research assignment to evaluate current trends in wine.

The changes follow a ‘thorough review’ of the WSET qualifications, and the new courses will benefit from ‘an enhanced, updated specification and learning materials. Pricing information will not be available until spring 2019 when the dates for the 2019/2020 academic year courses are announced.’

WSET CEO Ian Harris said, ‘We continually work to ensure that our qualifications remain current and job-relevant, equipping students with the skills and expertise they need. Extensive consultation with key industry stakeholders indicated a clear demand for specialist product education in the categories of wine, spirits and sake; our newly updated suite of qualifications directly addresses this demand, completing the separation of our products into three distinct subject-matter streams.’

The new Level 3 award in spirits will cover a broader spectrum of world spirits, including the key Asian categories of baijiu, soju and shochu. The new exam will include a blind tasting and a written paper with multiple-choice and short written answer questions, similar to the level 3 exam for wines.

The proposed Level 4 Diploma in Wines will have the following changes:

  • The removal of spirits to allow more in-depth coverage of wine
  • An increase in the delivery time for the Wines of the World Unit
  • A different assessment format for the two ‘foundation’ Units - covering wine production and wine business - tailored to new Learning Outcomes to ensure candidates have achieved the required knowledge for success in later Units
  • A new in-depth research assignment designed to assess the candidate’s ability to research beyond WSET’s learning materials to evaluate the current trends in wine
  • The new qualification will be supported by new digital learning materials and dedicated educator resources to promote first-class learning.

India in the plan

It is time though that WSET should consider adding Indian Wines in the syllabus, if not already so. The Indian industry has advanced a lot in the last10 years, making it an important market as well as the production center.

I also believe that the Trust has become too commercial and is running it like a private university in India, with eyes on profits and more profits. If education was the only motive, it would reduce the costs of Levels 1, 2 and 3 making thousands of F & B professionals and several hotel management institutes tie up with the Trust and taking the diploma holders at least 10 fold and even 20 times or more than the current levels, costs of wines for tasting notwithstanding.

For earlier related Articles, please visit:

WSET Level 3 Certification Debuts in India

Blog: I'd Rather be WET

Subhash Arora

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