Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The DIP Life : Part 2

Last week, I talked about how the WSET Level 4 DIP is organized and what one can expect in terms of the content of the program.  This week, I dig a bit deeper into how it affects me personally.  Everyone’s experience is different, but it is my hope that by sharing my story, I can help others in their decision to definitely go for DIP.

MY life as DIP…. 

Being a full time single mom I wasn’t sure how I was going to juggle Jake, work, and full time studying. I went ahead with it anyway, and I am so very happy I did even though this has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  My two University degrees ain’t got nothing on WSET.

It’s a fact….

My 22 month old son requires a lot of attention and if is he is not daycare, he is with me: running, eating, playing, making a mess, crying, laughing, being the beautiful little beast that he is. Although he is my priority, I DO take time away from him to devote to my studies and I OFTEN feel guilty about it. I have questioned every single day if taking this course is the right thing to do.  At the end of that day, I reflect and the answer is always yes. I am learning so much more than I ever thought I could. I’m starving for news and facts on appellations, yeast strains, and market shares.  But holy hell….the more I learn, I realize the less I know…..

Sometimes Jake gets to study with me.  On this 
particular day, he is working on Tuscany 

 What about support?

I get a lot of grief from family about my ‘wine stuff’. They don’t particularly understand what it is that I’m doing, or why it’s worthwhile….and that’s ok.   I spend a great amount of time online, in books, reading, writing, and tasting. They do not understand what I get out of it - especially because I don’t even work in the wine industry, with no guarantee that I ever will. Sure, I write a blog once a week but really how is WSET helping me professionally, and more importantly how am I building a solid, stable future for my son?

I don’t really have the answer to that except that I run on the determination and belief that one day my passion will turn into my work.   I must set the example that Jake can one day  live his dreams given he is crazy and passionate enough to work hard at it.

When taking the Diploma, you need a tremendous amount of support. Find that support in any form it comes in : your friends, family, co-workers, other WSET students, your pets….doesn’t matter. Having the guts to attempt Diploma itself exhibits a great amount of courage and determination.  Which leads me to my next point….

What about one’s partners?

I have heard some sad tales about what the DIP can do to a relationship. Time once given to loved ones gets directed instead to writing notes, tasting meetings, late night studying, and assignments.   If you do have a partner, it might be best to get a head start to talk about the time that needs to be dedicated to the course.  Or, as silly as it may sound, book off specific times/date nights for some quality time.  Remember that communication is absolute key!

Money, money, money......MONEY!

The cost of the course varies depending on what school offers DIP.  I am registered with IWEG in Toronto. ( You can see their site at the end of this post.)

MANY online students fly into Toronto to take exams and that certainly isn’t cheap.   There is a gal from Nova Scotia, a sommelier from Newfoundland, and even a guy from Mexico City who flies especially to Toronto!!! On the flip side, this can be seen as an  extra incentive to hit the books hard, because re-writes end up costing a fortune. 

There is the additional cost of reading/study materials of texts, books, articles, etc.  Best to buy used.

Then….there is the beloved cost of samples….

I have been so very, very fortunate to have a friend in the wine biz  who shares his samples with our study group in Montreal.   I have not had to dish out too much cash for the copious amount of wine/spirits we have to taste through.  

The Diploma is a serious course for wine scholars and the rewards can be huge, but remember to keep the not so good bad bits in the back of your mind.  


Independant Wine Education Guild (IWEG):

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The DIP Life

I have been a bit absent from the blog the past few weeks, mainly due to the torment of studying for my latest WSET Diploma exams.  Any spare moment I had was spent looking at the process of distillation of spirits and anything on organic/biodynamic wine. So, for the next few posts, I have decided to write a little about my experience being a WSET DIP (Diploma) student for a few reasons:

  1. Some of my friends and all of family have no idea what it is I am studying or why, and I feel like I need to shed some light on what the Diploma is.
  2. It has been taking up all my free time (and some of my sanity), and this can have an effect on relationships 
  3. In case any readers are playing with the idea of also getting their DIP (or MW for that matter), it’s important to know what you are signing up for.  

I will be writing about my own personal experience, but also brining in some feedback from my fellow WSET colleagues who are also embarked on the DIP quest with me.  

The WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) Level 4 Diploma course is considered the body’s flagship qualification, designed to prepare people for senior positions in the wine and spirits business.  It is also the stepping stone for the gruelling Master of Wine qualification - of which there are only 343 people in the world  .  Roughly 300 students a year start the WSET Diploma programme worldwide, and myself along with four other friends hope to have that Diploma in our hands in the next couple years. In retrospect, I think I must have had a few glasses of wine gone after deciding to register, because I had NO idea what I was getting myself into……

Ideally, one can finish the Diploma in the two-year time frame. I say ideally because the tasting, theory, and case study exams are fierce, and sometimes students find themselves re-writing.  There are 6 units in total: 

  • Unit 1: The Global Business of Alcoholic Beverages
  • Unit 2: Wine Production
  • Unit 3: Light Wines of the World
  • Unit 4: Spirits of the World
  • Unit 5 : Sparkling Wines of the World
  • Unit 6: Fortified Wines of the World

Units 3,4,5,6 are evaluated using a two-part exam, comprising of a tasting of three samples and one theory question covering three topics.  So, far I have completed Unit 2 and Unit 6 successfully and no one knows the relief that takes over me knowing I have passed. Obviously, the exams are tough, but the amount of infinite detail that needs to be written as responses is insane and has to be accurate, up-to-date and done in a specific format. It goes something like this: 
STUDENT:  Palomino grape variety has an acidity level of roughly 3.4.  
WSET: No you silly bugger…how foolish - it has an acidity level of 3.6.  
(Ok, so that was a slight exaggeration but taking a look at older examiner reports - your answers in exams have to be SPOT ON.)

Some of the terms prepared for the Unit 4 Spirits Exam

Within each Unit there is an enormous amount of information that needs to be covered and we never know what the WSET team will throw at us for an exam.  Out of hundreds of possible terms, we are given 3 and we expected to write as much as we can about that term in roughly 10 minutes.  We are also given 3 samples to taste blind (Unit 3 there are 12, although this is set to change to 24 in 2018), and are advised to spend 10 minutes writing tasting notes in a very specific format. (In previous years, students have failed tasting exams for not using clusters for flavours, or for taking notes in point form instead of complete sentences).  Their examination methods can be criticized.  As one of my WSET colleagues says, “As an educator by trade, I am not comfortable with the method chosen to assess students. Having us study hundreds of notions and concepts, and only ask for three in an evaluation is counter pedagogical. It creates an artificial difficulty to the diploma and, quite frankly, I am not convinced that it produces sound wine scholars in the end. There is a bit of “luck of the draw” involved with evaluations. If you sit an exam and you get the right terms, great, but if you don’t…”

Anyone taking the Diploma has to be ready to dedicate an enormous amount of time to their studies and sometimes this time gets taken away from family and friends.  The average Diploma student has a full time job, a partner, and sometimes a young family.  It is difficult to juggle all these things on a normal day, never mind studying about a topic that most people who do not work in the wine industry have little understanding of.

To end on a encouraging note - no one should ever feel inadequate for failing an exam.  It is not a reflection on one’s intelligence.  These exams are set to create some of best wine scholars in the world, and they are challenging for a reason.  From failing, we learn from mistakes and gain the drive to work harder.  Don’t ever give up - ride that crazy wave.  

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Wine of the Week: 2015 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare

It can be said that one of the most brilliant, complex, and unique winemaker/philosophers of our time is Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm.  His stature, mind, words, and not to mention wine are absolutely captivating.  One is immediately drawn in to pay close attention to what this man has to say about viniculture, viticulture or anything really. His wines are as expressive, complex and interesting as he is.   I was fortunate enough to have been invited to a tasting by Trialto Qc in Montreal where we would explore the latest releases of Bonny Doon led by Grahm himself.  Of course I am very fond of all his wines, but consecutively year after year the Vin Gris kicks some serious butt and is always my favourite summer time ( Ok, ok…anytime ) rosé.  Personally, I have a lot of trouble with rosé ; trouble in the sense that I have found many bad examples that are too perfumed, too fruit forward that lack freshness or elegance.  (I keep exploring though, and should you have your suggestions, please send them along.)


The 2015 Vin Gris is absolutely pure and elegant, with awesome drinkability.  Its brilliance lies in what seems to be its simplicity - clean, light fruit flavours where one element does not overpower the next. An unexpected round palate with a thirst quenching, fine finish. Buy a case, buy two…..  You will pull this wine out for any occasion over the next year or so.  The 2015 Vin Gris Cigare will be available at the SAQ in April.  Keep an eye out….

                                    Photo Credit: Bonny Doon Vineyard

Made with 6 different grape varieties  from Altalona, Beeswax, and Delbarba Vineyards, after fermentation this wine underwent bâttonage, which gives this rose the interesting somewhat creamy texture.  Tiny, tiny bit of acidification, says Grahm…..tiny. 

Pale salmon in colour, this wine is a sight for sore eyes as it is a reminder that summer is just around the corner.  On the nose, there is a delicate mix of fresh strawberry, peach, chalk and cherry blossom.  On the palate, this dry rosé is amazingly fresh with excellent acidity and full mouth feel supported by balanced flavours of strawberry, raspberry, white flowers  and a touch of saltiness. The best vintage of Vin Gris I have ever tasted from Bonny Doon.  Overall, a very elegant rosé.  Drink now or in the next 2 years. 

Wine: Bonny Doon 2015 Vin Gris de Cigare
Grapes: 44% Grencahe, 20%Grenache Blanc , 12% Carignane, 11% Mourvèdre, 7% Cinault, 6% Rousanne
Price: $22.70*( Available April 2016)
Agent: Trialto Qc

I also had the opportunity to taste through some other wines of Bonny Doon, and one particular favourite is unfortunately not available in Quebec.  You can read my tasting note here:

2009 Le Cigare Volant Réserve en bonbonne

Deep purple in the glass, with pronounced aromas of blackberry, ripe cherry, warm spice and tertiary aromas of forest floor and mushrooms…. ( Kind of like a walk through a damp forest with the morning dew.).  The palate is generous, round, and layered with blackberries, dark plums, and loads of earth. The fresh acidity and medium grained tannin create a pleasing texture and will carry the wine along for years to come. The full and complex finish goes on and on for days. Truly an outstanding wine. Drink now or within 8-10 years.

Blend: 30% Syrah, 28% Grenache 22% Mouvèdre, 20% Cinsault.

Photo: Bonny Doon Vineyard