|Analysis: How vital is a wine qualification?|
|Written by Gemma McKenna|
|Thursday, 18 November 2010 18:04|
Insider: Harpers Wine & Spirit magazine has been looking at how vital a wine qualification is in the drinks trade. While wine professionals still see it as essential, the blogging community has different views.
How do you get a foot on the ladder in the wine trade?
“If you’re looking for new staff to have a WSET Certificate or Diploma already, then you’re fishing in a very small pond,” says Bibendum managing director Michael Saunders.
This sentiment is echoed by Giles Cooke MW, marketing and buying director at Alliance Wine, who says it’s more important to find someone with the right attitude. “We value attitude over knowledge. You can have too much knowledge and not know how to apply it in sales roles. People have had issues with not being able to listen to the customer,” he adds.
But aside from WSET courses, those with a thirst for knowledge are also considering Wine MBAs and the Academy of Food & Wine Service Skills.
Nick Scade, chairman of the AFW, says: “We have seen a huge growth in the past few years for front-of-house training. As customer knowledge and interest in wine grows, it’s important that staff, whether in a gastropub, chain restaurant or a fine dining establishment, can talk knowledgeably about the wines on their list, including provenance, method of production, taste and the food it is best matched with.”
The academy offers an entry to wine knowledge course for food waiters, along with two jointly badged qualifications with the WSET – Introductory Certificate Level 2 and a Certified Sommelier Level 3. It can also link into the Court of Master Sommelier courses.
Last year, 27,500 people worldwide completed a WSET course, 9% up on the previous year. About 35% of those courses were held in the UK and 80% of students already worked in the industry.
The not-for-profit organisation now operates in 55 countries and offers companies bespoke courses. “Our syllabus is global,” adds Harris. “It’s the same exam in London and Hong Kong, but we can tailor it to different companies. For example, we can upweight the Australia teaching for a firm focused on Australian wines. But the exam will remain the same.
“We’ve also added a module on basic selling skills, which each company can have tailored to suit them.”
Individuals can then choose whether they want to pursue MWs, MBAs or other further education.
Richard Hitchcock, marketing and operations director at Bottle Green, says training is “fundamental” and “covers product as well as business skills; neither alone is good enough”. All its employees either have or are studying for the WSET Intermediate qualification. “Many then have the WSET Advanced on top and a smaller number have the WSET Diploma. Of course, we also have one MW – David Gill.”
Meanwhile, Tesco head of BWS Dan Jago says: “The authority that the MW title conveys is recognised and valued by customers.”
“I personally never finished my WSET Diploma, but I don’t think that’s made a big difference to my life, other than missing out on contacts.
“The WSET tells you there is no right tasting note for a wine, but when you’re examined on a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, if you don’t tick the box “gooseberry” and instead write “it’s like being slapped in the face with a bunch of grass”, you won’t get the marks.
“I’m not trying to do down the WSET, I’d definitely recommend it to people. But if a blogger asks me if they need to do it before they start blogging I’d say no, do it your own way first. If they want to get into some more technical stuff later, then by all means.”