Covid-19 has obliterated the word “normality” in countless lives and activities across all colors, races, creeds and continents. The devastating impact has ramifications far beyond a generation, yet to be measured effectively, but it is undeniably agreed, it is unfathomably deep and the effects could well match or surpass the negative impacts of the “Black” Death” of the 1340. Yet while ravaging all sectors of life and leading to the demise of many it has also caused many new industries, embryonic start-ups and lessor thought of activities thrive like the newly born Spring buds. Online wine education is one such budding example.
The early lockdowns experienced globally, offered an unusually long absence from work and with it an abnormally abundant amount of free time. Most people sensibly wanted to use this time constructively and on-line studies was a huge bonanza in terms of flexibility, approach and choice.
They can be divided into two main camps free and paid course, much like red and white wine, distinct and separable.
The free courses are innumerable, with many taking different perspectives. Wine Folly stated, “They offer little to no guidance, no person-to -person interaction and no recognized certificates.” The paid courses are more structured offering more substance and differ when it comes to face to face and peer support. Often those who study online prefer to have the choice of being an adventurer on the open ocean, studying when they want and how they want as long as they know the maps and charts in their course are structured. The importance of face to face and peer support is debatable depending on the teaching structure and style the individual is used to. The choice is yours to decide, in my opinion, you need to consider what is of prime importance to you and also your willingness to invest in the effort. The willingness is not only relatable to monetary value, but more importantly, the time you invest, which you can never get back again.
These are some free online courses to consider:
- World of Wine: From Grape to Glass: Offered by University of Adelaide in Australia through EdX (free to audit, paid version for certificate also available).
- Wine Tasting Sensory Techniques: This 18-hour course is offered by UC Davis on Coursera (free to audit, paid version for certificate also available).
- Tom Cannavans’ wine-pages.com
Paid online wine courses differ and agreeably are more structured
1. Wine Style Tasting Course with Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly is simplistic and is aimed for beginners. They are the baby steps we all must take. It is interactive and certainly the on-demand videos and 20- page guide is most useful.
2. The Masterclass series on Netflix has a plethora of options on classes and when it comes to wine there is such a class called Masterclass by James Suckling. His credentials are impeccable and his knowledge unimpeachable but, aarh yes, the but. The location is spectacular and the filming quality superb, but as they would say in wine parlance, the finish was lacking and the flavor mediocre at best. This online wine class is more suited to the initiated who would like to see a professional assessment and their perspective as opposed to a structured learning session. Many important facets one would expect to have been touched upon deeply are passed over in a perfunctory manner.
There is no certificate as well and can be described as an upgraded documentary of a day in the life of a wine professional.
3. Everyday Guide to Wine with Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW is presented under the Amazon Prime Video Series of “The Great Courses” catalogue. This is indeed lecturing that covers material over a 12-hour period. There are 24 lectures running about 30 minutes for each course.
There is a lovely and useful book that is full of useful evergreen information on wine. This has to be purchased separately. There is no certificate and one must be very disciplined because listening over such a long period would take even a battle-hardened student of many educational campaigns to stay the course.
It is worth the time though, full of information and the depth and delivery is certainly worth the time you will need to invest in this course.
4. Sprawling like the British Empire at it’s peak where the sun would never set on the British flag is, “The Wine Spirit and Education Trust” (WSET) base in London, UK. It is widely known and has a well-structured approach but an inflexible and dated approach it has been said. Miquel Hudin in his article, “Transparency, in Wine Certification” stated “the exams are graded very slowly . . . wait times of two months are typical.” And regarding the exam grading went on to state, “if you don’t pass you need to pay to get it regarded and if you want feedback on it you have to pay as well, either way your wallet will be lighter.”
WSET has four distinctive levels level 1 – 4. Level 4 is the Diploma level. Level 1-2 exam is comprised of multiple-choice questions and level 3 is a combination thereof and level 4 is once a gain a combination with more emphasis on the non multiple-choice questions. Each level that is passed one receives a certificate.
It was only in April 2020 that WSET really launched a full offensive in this area of online education, prior to this they left this format relegated to the third division as global demand was not there. With the onslaught of Covid, WSET re-engineered their strategy but still suffer from the issues Miquel Hudin raised. WSET wine school partners arrange dates and delivery of online classes as they teach-online.
WSET relied predominantly on partner schools to deliver their courses prior to Covid-19 and still do. Their course structure is now increasingly seen to be far too rigid for the new generational style of education and not up too speed with technology. It has stood the test of time and is evolving with the Covid-19 situation.
They have 4 certifications the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), the Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS) and the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) and the Certified Spirits Educator (CSE). You need to buy the book from amazon or apple as an iBook and this is only the text book. The online practice examinations and quizzes, flashcards are purchased separately. Examinations are via Pearson VUE testing centers or ProctorU.
There are some opportunities where there is a webinar and instructor to take you through the material. You will need to find the suitable time and date to make this work for you, which in many ways defeats the flexibility of a truly online program. The course material is detailed and the certification is well earned. You need to buy your own wines for the course. It is a lovely book indeed, filled with many facts and maps.
6. The Wine Scholar Guild, based in the USA, focuses on teaching specific countries. They only have 3 main courses, which are France, Italy and Spain. They have a number of smaller sub-region classes for those countries defined as “Masterclasses”. The materials are in-depth and full of information with a certificate upon successful completion of their examination. There is a recommended wine list one should use to obtain the maximum benefit from their lessons. There is a manual and only for instructor-led courses are their webinars. Courses are through and one ought to have a solid wine foundation before embarking on these courses to appreciate them fully as they are complex and detailed.
7. The Asia Pacific Wine and Spirit Institute (APWASI) is based in Canada. They have over 25 fully integrated wine, spirit, and luxury courses in over 30 languages. Each course is divided into lessons and there is a quiz at the end of each lesson, which must be successfully passed before you can move on to the next lesson.
The uniqueness of APWASI courses is their inclusivity of cultural awareness within the course by expanding on the historical, geographical, social norms, food and of course wine knowledge of each major wine producing country respectively. The course material is not just repetitive memorization of facts, places and grapes, much as we loathe this. We know there must be a degree of this material and it is universal with all wine courses, but the expanded additional information of each wine producing country is impressive.
The wine courses are between 80 – over 100 pages of information delivered in an exceptionally easy learning format aided with tri-sensory format. Many other wine courses available offer minimal information on countries not considered mainstream. For example, wine education material on Canada or Portugal is generally stretched to 4 pages each if they are fortunate. APWASI has texts for visualization, open source videos for listening and viewing and quizzes for manual application. All the latest learning techniques of 2020 have been included in their format. They are the first in the world to deliver an on-line certified wine class on “Wines of China”, “Ice-Wine”, “Caviar”, “Truffles” and “Tequila”. They have a recommended wine and spirit list that students are recommended to try and the exam is multiple-choice that must be completed within a limited time factor.
APWASI has strategic partners dedicated to online wine education and the APWASI Learning Cycle is the result offering great benefit to students. They receive:
- Complimentary free 6 months usage for Quini’s online wine tasting software.
- Complimentary access to Latinawines software highlighting South American wines.
- Reduced pricing to learn a language which is very useful. If you are learning, for example, about Italian wines you can also learn how to speak Italian through the Rosetta Stone learning system.
- Reduced pricing on Jancis Robinson reference material.
- Complimentary one-year subscription to Wine Spectator digital copy.
The courses are not tutored. They are 100% online allowing the student to study in their own time, location and pace. The mission of APWASI is to promote wine education, cultural awareness, diversity and inclusivity through their courses and they offer multiple scholarships and bursaries to students who find financial limitations restrict their thirst for knowledge.
The APWASI wine, spirits and luxury courses are fully online and offers cutting edge education structured with the new technology available.
8. Mastering Wine with Jancis Robinson MW. A remarkable lady whose name is synonymous with class and experience. She has created an entry level course that offers invaluable tips one the basics of wine, from ordering, tasting, serving and storing wine. There is a certificate of completion that is not recognized as stated by Madeline Puckette. There is a number of videos available and the duration of the videos covers approximately 3.5 hours.
This course oozes enormous amounts of wine facts and knowledge that is presented in a delightful manner that many appreciate.
9. It is important to mention that the wine world is currently undergoing a serious crisis evidenced by the Court of Master Sommeliers America Abuse Scandal. Hudin does not mince his words and plunges the sword deeply into the heart of the matter. He further mentions, “reckoning about the gross sexism in wine.” which never happened yet but many believe will inevitably be exposed. The New York Times reported the chairman of elite Wine group resigns amid its sexual harassment scandal.
10. Organizations like Diversity in Wine and Spirits openly states their “Community is a network of individuals and organizations that actively seek to eliminate barriers that prevent professionals from diverse backgrounds from reaching their full potential.” Lia Jones is the Executive Director of this organization which seeks diversity in this industry. Organizations like Diversity in Wine and Spirits believe there should be diversity and inclusivity for all. The Asia Pacific Wine and Spirit Institute is the first online wine education organization to include cultural awareness and diversity in their course material. Miquel Hudin’s article is blunt and gives the reader the sense, diversity and transparency may not be openly addressed but the undertones are starting to create waves and many feel it will come to a head in the coming months.
One must not forget the pervasive podcasts that are available
1. There is Wine for Normal People by certified sommelier Elizabeth Schneider.
2. And one could also explore Levi Dalton, I’ll Drink to That. He has a library of podcasts from 2012-2019 that include interviews with importers, critics, and writers.
Other resources for students that students can seize are online videos
There are many valuable resources of wine videos from the Asia Pacific Wine and Spirit Institute (APWASI), Wine Folly, Jordan winery videos, Guildsomm, and WSET. The most recent entry to the filed of video offerings is a series created by Klaas De Jong titled Wine Masters Documentary.
There are many viewpoints about online wine education. Lettie Teague wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Learning about wine online seems easy enough—not to mention affordable. Yet after exploring all manner of internet wine education, I’m not ready to declare it the ideal forum—at least not yet.” There are those who think the opposite is true. Miquel Hudin has clearly set his line in the sand and awaits to see how the situation develops.
Ultimately, all the providers listed do their very best to deliver courses that are meaningful and fulfill their purpose of offering solid wine education. There are many viewpoints that are expressed in today’s world, some courses are more impressive, others lack depth while others seem to have the right formula. But this is true of many things in life, is it not?
You be the judge what suits your style of online wine education. I wish you the very best on this most enjoyable adventure that lies ahead of you. It’s fantastic.