British Columbia Wine Report

Back to {WINE} School TimeSept. 9, 2014

by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Even though it looks like BC’s public schools will not be back in session any time soon due to a bitter and lengthy teachers’ strike, September’s arrival signals back to school for many lucky BC students. Wine students.

After a busy summer for most of the trade, autumn is a natural slide back into indoors, books and studies. There are classes for all levels of professional and amateur wine students, both informal and accredited, all over the province. Classes vary widely in scope, instruction and cost, and potential wine students should do a little homework to find out what method best suits their needs; it can be confusing to know the difference between ISG and WSET and CMS and beyond – a whole lingo of acronyms in itself! As a wine professional with a funny little alphabet of post-noms, I’m constantly queried on the best way for people to improve their wine knowledge – be it for their personal pleasure, or for improving their career. For this Back To {Wine} School BC Wine Report, I’m going to give you the Coles Notes on the various programs available.


The class you chose depends on your end goal. If you’re a beginning amateur (CONsumer) who would like to understand the difference between chardonnay and cabernet, you may not need or want an accredited course. There are numerous courses at community rec centres and colleges, as well as continuing studies courses offered through universities such as the University of British Columbia. Some private wine shops offer a series of courses to customers, which is a great way to learn more about what’s at your local shop. These courses are often offered in the evenings or weekends, and aimed at widening your world wine scope in a more casual and consumer-appropriate way.

IMG_4912If you’re in the industry, or want to be, you will want to find an accredited course, for PROfessionals. Certification from an accredited education provider will be helpful on your resume, and provides a standard level that is recognized widely. At the entry levels, the instruction between the programs is similar, but as you progress through your studies, you’ll want to know what your end goal is so you can direct your path. You’ll also learn how to taste (yes, and spit) professionally and methodically as well as how to taste wine blind – more than just a nifty party trick.

End Goal: MW vs MS

Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)

This globally recognized, multi-tiered program is great for people just starting wine studies or for those who have informal and/or self-guided training as you can enter at any level that suits. Courses build from Level 1 through 3 into increasingly detailed material about the world of wine and spirits, as well as blind tasting skills. Level 4 is the Diploma level, and is comprised of 6 different detailed units, each focusing on an aspect of global wine business or style. The Diploma is usually a 2-3 year program, and can be taken in class or through Distance Education. There are very few schools worldwide able to administer the Diploma program on behalf of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, based in London, England. Completion of the WSET Diploma is the stepping stone to become a Master of Wine (MW), the highest academic/wine business qualification in the world. *WineAlign’s Rhys Pender is an MW.

There are a few different schools in BC that are accredited for WSET instruction and classes run at various schedules year round, but only the Art Institute of Vancouver is certified to teach the Diploma level. Diploma courses run on a globally synched calendar – meaning all students around the world write exams on specific dates. Other WSET providers in BC include WinePlus+, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, Fine Vintage and the BC Wine School.

Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS)

IMG_6838Though not a permanent fixture in BC, the Court of Master Sommeliers leads the Introductory Sommelier Course and a Certified Sommelier Course through the Art Institute of Vancouver each fall. Unlike WSET and their focus on global wine business, the focus of CMS instruction shifts to wine service, and completion of their Advanced Sommelier level is the gateway to becoming a Master Sommelier (MS), an exam process chronicled in the documentary SOMM. *WineAlign’s John Szabo is an MS. Vancouver’s CMS courses will be taught via the Art Institute at the end of September and afford students the chance to gain an accredited designation from CMS. Vancouver classes fill up quickly; students who are marching on towards their MS have to travel to the United States to write the Advanced Level exams.

There are other accredited courses in BC that are more localized geographically (International Sommelier Guild) or specialized (French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Specialist). For budding winemakers and grape growers, the Viticulture and Wine Studies Program at Okanagan College is a great place to start.

And now for the Homework…

Unlike most schools, the best part about wine studies is homework. Tasting, tasting, tasting wines from around the globe – benchmarks and oddities – to set your palate and your wine compass. I’m a lifer – a lifetime student – who is excited and grateful to learn new things every time I pick up a glass.

Here are a series of wines that I think everyone, at any level, should experience. Consider it homework.

If you can learn to say Weingut St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett 2011, you’re ahead of the game, and even more when you start to grasp off-dry and intense Mosel Riesling.

After learning German, Greek will be easy – especially when you have the sunny and likable Boutari Moschofilero 2012 from Peloponnese, Greece in your tasting glass.

You will learn how some wineries deftly merge modernity with centuries of tradition, as with the Barone Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010.

Or how producers are reclaiming biodynamic and natural farming techniques to lead today’s brigade of responsible natural wines, like Beaujolais’ Christophe Pacalet Chiroubles 2011.

In our locavore province, students will be schooled on important local wines, like Naramata’s Nichol Vineyard Syrah 2010, made from Canada’s oldest Syrah vines.

St. Urbans Hof Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett 2011 Boutari Moschofilero 2012 Barone Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010 Christophe Pacalet Chiroubles 2011Nichol Vineyards Syrah 2010

A big part of the class will be learning type and benchmarks for regions. Sonoma’s Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc 2011 should be on every wine lover’s playlist for its creamy oak and lemon curd balance.

And Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalicino DOCG 2008 makes for a great lesson in elegant Brunello di Montalcino from a very good vintage.

A huge benefit of formal classes is tasting a series of wines beyond most peoples’ budgets. Tasting stunning, shining grower Champagnes, like Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils ‘Cuis 1er Cru’ Blanc de Blancs NV Brut will make you forget you’re at ‘school’.

Ferrari Carano Fumé Blanc 2011 Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino 2008 Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Blanc De Blancs 'cuis' 1er Cru Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Hidalgo La Gitana Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port

And another, oft overlooked benefit? Your savvy instructor can introduce you to very tasty wines at very tasty prices, like the brambled and cassisclad Concha y Toro 2012 Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Maipo Valley, Chile.

Context is everything, and your instructor will paint a hazy picture of Jerez’s history when introducing you to the idiosyncratic Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla from Southern Spain’s Sanlucar De Barrameda.

Similarly, when you are tasting wines – like Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny – from the oldest demarcated and regulated wine region in the and start to grasp that you’re learning, and tasting history all at once, you’ll want to stay a student forever.

Treve ~

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