24 wine enthusiasts gather in a classroom in London. Armed with notepads, 12 tasting glasses and a passion for all things wine they are embarking on an in-depth exploration of the world of wine: the WSET Diploma in Wines. After graduating from Plumpton College, Hallgarten & Novum Wines Marketing Coordinator recently embarked on her fourth level of WSET qualification – below she takes a look at it from behind the tasting glass.
The assembled band of 24 students glance around furtively, looking, intrigued at the classmates they will spend over 120 hours and nearly 2 years studying with. All have the same aim: to achieve WSET’s ‘flagship’ qualification, the final and most challenging course they offer. Despite such a specific goal the group is diverse, a range of ages and backgrounds, those already working in the wine trade, those who hope to and dedicated consumer enthusiasts. We leave that first introductory class both daunted and excited, eager to join nearly 10,000 Diploma graduates from around the world.
But what drives an ever increasing numbers of WSET diploma students and why is this important to the wine trade?
In 2018/19, celebrating its 50th year, WSET saw a 15% year on year increase in students, more than 20,000 of them in the UK. For those in, or hoping to be in the wine trade there are some clear benefits to achieving such well recognised and respected qualifications. The Diploma in particular is known by employers to be rigorous, demanding knowledge and commitment. Given the complex and ever-changing nature of wine having a high level of wine education can be very appealing to those working in the trade, giving them a greater understanding of such a huge topic.
Both employee and employer stand to benefit. Qualified staff can ensure customers perceive a business as knowledgeable and trustworthy. In addition, having wine educated employees enhances the customer experience which can boost sales. Wine knowledge is communicated to the customer and research proves customers with some level of wine education spend more. For the consumer in both the on and off trade, wine buying, like any purchase, has a level of risk and for more expensive wines the risk increases. Education can alleviate this and increase customer spend.
Conversely, this increase in demand and uptake of consumer wine education means staff in the trade need increasingly high levels of knowledge to meet the needs of their ever more savvy customers. The story and provenance behind wine has become more and more important to the consumer in recent years, increased wine education amongst staff means they are well equipped to impart plenty of information to the customer. Furthermore, staff who have all studied tasting through one standard approach can give consistency to the way they evaluate wine and as such enable them to describe wine to customers with clarity.
Qualifications like the diploma can benefit both wine trade professionals and their consumers. Providing employees with confidence to talk in detail about all aspects of wine means they can pass forward this knowledge to customers, putting them at ease and potentially enabling them to be more adventurous in their wine selection.