It was just a matter of time before the wine industry began to demand higher wine education. Wine certification is to the wine trade what college is to higher education.
The success of WSET and other wine programs is a great development. After all, the college-level curriculum allows students to learn about wine, which includes the whole array of wine and spirits and goes through the basic information and then provides them with the more sophisticated stuff. They can graduate from the first level to the fifth level, adding an air of professionalism to the wine industry.
However, wine education is moving into an area that higher learning rarely –if ever– does: franchising. WSET, which was established in London, announced it would be expanding to the Asian region… or more specifically, China. This after it had expanded into the United States. While other programs are more complete and offer better education and placement potential, the franchise model is taking hold.
When WSET Was Established and Why
WSET was founded in 1969, and before its implementation, the industry had no key source of knowledge. The only way people learned about wine was through hands-on training in the country where they lived. It’s why they had a regional perspective about the industry.
For example: a person from London could become an apprentice at an auction house or wine shop where Rhine, Burgundy and Bordeaux wines generally dominate. This person may master these wines but not the wines sold in other locations such as Italy, Spain, Great Britain, etc. Even people who lived in the French regions of the Loire or Rhone Valley would not understand wine manufactured in London.
While it worked for the time and place, it really was not fair.
The Problem With The WSET
Relying on a single curriculum – whatever the field – can have some major limitations. Imagine if there was as single syllabus for a mechanical engineering degree. Would that make for better engineers? It is highly doubtful.
Students of the wine industry should go forth and learn about wine away from the WSET educational setting. It will help them to have their own set of preferences to seek out other schools that offer formal study. By exploring wine in other classrooms, the budding sommelier will learn about new tastes their palates may never have gotten introduced to.
A big concern for people in the industry is that focusing on one brand of wine education leads to oversimplification and less capable students. Instead, the wine industry should focus on promoting regional wine courses and programs, rather than just one franchise.