And so it begins. This will be the first post in a series that will track my progress throughout the preparation, study, revision, panic, and fingers crossed, successful completion of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 3. However, even though I’m about 6 months out from actually signing up to the course, the preparation stage starts now.
Why so early?
Because I’m planning on cheating, and cheating…well, cheating takes planning.
Hear me out. I’m not planning on cheating in the conventional sense; you know by sneaking notes into the final exam or getting the examiner so drunk on wine they just take your word that you got 100%.
No, the plan is to get a head-start on the course material itself. To ingrain as much of the required knowledge before I even walk through the door.
So why do I call it cheating? Well, honestly, mostly to try grab your attention at the top of the article. But also because I want the same advantage that some other people already have.
To explain; when I arrived at my WSET Level 2 course it quickly became apparent that the playing field was not level. Some people were wine enthusiasts but not in the actual business. Others worked in the wine business and had years of experience. One guy even belonging to a family who ran a vineyard which he grew up on. In general they were doing the course less to learn new knowledge but to gain the formal certificate, often for their careers. For them, the course and exam material were pretty basic. I, on the other hand, was furiously attempting to memorize the various flavour profiles of different white wines; having not really been a white wine drinker this took effort.
Now, the course isn’t a competition, so nobody had an ‘unfair’ advantage. But as most people can attest to, it can feel frustrating when you need to work hard to achieve something that seems to come naturally to others.
Of course, the truth is most everybody needed to do the work, it’s just that some had done it before even stepping through the door.
And that’s the goal; to feel less pressured when doing the Level 3 course, to learn the material at my own more relaxed and enjoyable pace. My hope is this article can also help others also doing the WSET Level 3 or even those doing WSET Level 2.
In Part 1 of the series, I’m looking at ways to start creating a low effort routine which increases my exposure to course knowledge. I can then slowly build on this routine as the course approaches, introducing more time and effort intensive learning methods.
For me, one of the easiest ways to learn and retain information is via repeated exposure. Where the goal isn’t to consciously attempt to remember pieces of information but to unconsciously become so familiar with the information it becomes second-nature.
At the time of writing I’m not currently working in the wine trade, as such I don’t have the advantage of daily exposure to information likely to be covered on the course. My plan is to look at ways to create that regular exposure. Below are a couple of ways that, in the past and with other subjects, I’ve gone about this and which worked well.
Wine News & Articles
As you would expect news sites are a great source for keeping up to speed with the latest goings on in the wine world. However, they also provide low effort method for daily learning opportunities and re-enforcement.
The method is straight forward. I create a folder in my browser and fill it with bookmarks. Then, on a daily basis, I click on the folder and load all the sites into tabs and scan through the headlines.
I’m not looking to read every article, although if something looks interesting I’ll dig into it. I’m looking to re-enforce useful knowledge and get a feel for what today’s conversation is about. For example, an article on the release of 2018 Bordeaux wines provides a quick reminder of the varieties common in Bordeaux, information that I’m likely to be tested on.
Below I’ve tried to list sites that focus on recent events and news (over an above more informative but static sites) in an effort to ensure I remain engaged but also to keep my finger on the proverbial pulse.
|Site & Link||Description|
| ||I’ve put Terroirist at the top for two reasons. The first reason is that when I first saw the logo my mind immediately went to a picture of beret-wearing vineyard owners terrorising craft beer drinkers. As often in life, a quick google search showed that the reality, sadly, isn’t too far from the fantasy.|
The other reason is more positive, in the blog’s own words, it’s looking at “…covering everything, daily” that’s wine related. Great for our purposes! They provide a nice daily news roundup, often from sources listed further down in this table.
|Decanter is a premium wine magazine that focuses more on the consumer side. For our purpose, they offer free semi-regular updates under the news section of the website. You also have the option for signing up to their premium subscription.|
|WineBusiness.com, the hints really in the name. The daily news section can feel a bit overwhelming with the number of articles. Most of the content seems sourced from other sites. |
However, one thing I like is they assemble the latest wine company/producer press releases, meaning you don’t have to track them down yourself.
Additionally, they have a “most popular daily news links” on the right of the page which, can give you a feel for what’s trending in the wine world. Definitely a site where I scan rather than deep diving.
||The Drinks Business seem to produce their own content which is focused on the business and trade side. For our purposes, the content can be hit and miss – still worth a quick scan of the headlines.|
|You’re likely already aware of wine-searcher, but maybe unaware they also produce their own news/opinion pieces. They seem to update daily with a new article. Not all the articles will be relevant to your WSET prep, but they should at least prove interesting – after all, it’s not all about work!|
|Wine-Spectator is another premium wine magazine, this one US-based. Like Decanter, they post free news & opinion articles to their site on a semi-regular basis. |
|Hit and miss but Google news is worth scanning every other day to see if anything grabs your interest, mostly you will get results from the other sources already listed in this table, but sometimes it will turn up some original articles.|
|A wine investment site that provides a useful weekly summary of wine news. Again, often references other sources already listed here, but I’ve still found it useful as a guide to what is trending in the wine world for any given week.|
The above list should be enough to be getting on with, but if I’m missing any major sources of news please comment below.
For those that are already aware of the benefits of learning via podcasts feel free to jump down to the list. For those unaware, read on.
Podcasts or netcasts are basically audio episodes you can download and listen to when you want – think of it as radio on demand. There are podcasts produced on almost every conceivable subject. Curious about the history of Garden Gnomes? – These guys have you covered.
The main benefit I’ve found of using podcasts is that previously “dead time” can be filled with learning opportunities. For example as a marathon runner, I use the first hour of long training runs to get through a podcast or two; that’s before the second to the third hour of the run when the internal screaming takes hold and the ability to concentrate goes out the window. Still, every little helps.
For others, less masochistic then me, you can listen during your commute to work, at the gym, pretty much anywhere where you can get away with having your headphones on.
For those brand new to podcasts check out this guide by Wired magazine, it should help you get up and running.
Obviously, the subject we’re interested in is wine and there are a number of podcasts available to keep us busy. Below is a list of the ones I’m signed up to. Most have a regular release schedule but I would also recommend looking through the back catalogue of episodes as they often have episodes dedicated to subjects that will come up during the WSET course.
There are many more podcasts out there, but again I want to keep the list manageable. Even for the above don’t feel bad if you’re not listening to every episode; pick your battles and focus on those that will give you a refresher on WSET course material.
Am I expecting the above to replace hard work and focused study? Absolutely not. I believe the course will still be challenging and require me to put a lot of hours into memorizing numerous facts – but anything I can do to make that process easier is time well spent in my mind.
Over the next weeks, I’m going to focus on more active methods of learning including some obvious ones such as lists of books you could read to less obvious ones like creating your own wine aroma kits.
In Part 2 I’m going to look at tackle ways I plan to improve my Palate. For me, this is my biggest weakest and an area that is likely to keep me up at night the closer the exam comes.
It’s also at this point I’ll ask for suggestions from you. The above is the list I’ve managed to pull together from searches and recommendations. However, I’m under no illusions that it will be complete so if you have other/better recommendations please comment. I want to make this a ‘living’ post and will add updates to it as I get them.
Caveats & Other Business
I’m not an expert on the science of learning, so the above is based purely on my own experience. The terms I’m using are my own and I have no doubt there are more scientific ones. If anybody is an expert in this area and would like to reach out with corrections and other methods that could be useful please don’t hesitate.