Thursday, October 11, 2018

How I Got My WSET Diploma Online (Fingers Crossed!) -- Part 1: UNIT 2

When I decided to go for my WSET Diploma, I searched the interwebs for other peoples' experiences, and didn't really find a lot. So I decided to write my own spiel! Anyone curious about higher wine education may find this helpful, and other wineaux may just like to know what earning those letters after one's name actually entails.

I am not-so-secretly a nerd. I did well in high school and college, but when I started seriously studying wine to compliment the work I'd been doing with wine appraisals and to round out my knowledge, I REALLY got into it. I sought certifications from three different "schools," first earning the Certified Specialist of Wine from the leading wine educational body in the U.S., the Society of Wine Educators. (No classwork involved, 100-question multiple choice test.) Then I jumped into the Wine and Spirit Education Trust's Level 3 Advanced certification (leading international wine education group, week-long intensive class or multi-week spread out class, multiple choice and short answer exam plus a blind tasting component.) Finally I became a Certified Sommelier via the Court of Master Sommeliers (few days of "review" classes, multiple choice theory exam, blind tasting exam, and service exam.)

The WSET Diploma I call a "double master's degree on steroids." The only higher wine educational credential beyond it is Master of Wine (or Master Sommelier in the service industry.) There are currently six units: Viticulture and Vinification, The Business of Wine, Light Wines of the World, Sparkling Wines, Fortified Wines, and Spirits. (These will be changing next year; they are dropping spirits and shifting the amount of time dedicated to certain units.) You can pursue classroom instruction at WSET course providers around the globe, or do an online program. As I'm also a performer and I never know when or for how long I'll be out of town, I opted for online. It has its benefits and its disadvantages for sure. 

Up first, Unit 2: Viticulture and Vinification. (Exam for this unit is 100 multiple choice questions.) The following are excerpts from my journal.


Week -1: Induction week.

The online course builds in an induction week so you can get used to the website.

I wished they’d have provided us a list of classmates’ names and locales, but instead, one of our “figure out how to do this thing online” tasks was to post in a forum and “introduce” ourselves. I took notes of folks, but I feel like we’re all letters floating in alphabet soup; some bob at the surface, some are half-hidden, and some are obscured at the bottom. I don’t know which I am yet. Probably on the surface but struggling to stay afloat? We also played around with sending information into the WSET Mother Ship (it just occurs to me I never got a reply. Was I supposed to? Hm.) and interacted with this thing called a “wiki,” which I immediately LOATHED.

The wiki is a tool for lots of people to create and edit a document together. The one our whole group started for the induction week was a hodge-podge of personal outline styles, fonts, expression of information… ugh. HATED IT. Seriously hope I won’t fail because of it. I have not had such an aversion to something in years (unless you want me to get a little political.)

I also am not a huge fan of the forums, which is how our alphabet soup is supposed to communicate with each other. If you post something, and someone replies to your post, and someone replies to THEIR post, it’s easy to miss it, plus I don’t know if one CAN organize the posts chronologically… factor this by 15 and, well, another hodge-podge mess.

Week 1: Unit Two begins.

Three activities: Trellis, Rootstock, and a group “Establishing a Vineyard.” I actually think the group project is cool, but since we “wasted” 5 days trying to work and/or communicate in the forums, frustrating. Not to mention, I’m in rehearsal for a play right now!! So I am totally focused elsewhere for 8+ hours of each day, and exhausted when I CAN carve out study time.

End of W1 and I did complete Trellis, am 80% done with Rootstock (plan on finishing tomorrow, so not TOO late,) and our smaller group – surprisingly(?) kind of helmed by ME – is at a decent place, I think. I have seven pages of text left to highlight and 10 pages left to note.

[My study system plan so far is to highlight the Study Guide text, go back and note it on looseleaf, then put certain things on flashcards when I get home. Eventually I’ll also highlight and notate the other recommended reading and add that in the binder notes.]

The density of information is overwhelming me a little right now. I actually said out loud yesterday, “what did I get myself into?” I do try to calm myself down knowing that probably everyone in this program is working a full-time job, so we’re ALL in the same boat. But I’m already thinking 2 ½ weeks ahead, when I can be home and able to spend 3-4 hours a day on this. HOLY SHIT. 3-4 hours a day for maybe the next 3 years? HOLY. SHIT.

I seem to have developed a tic in my eye.

In all fairness, I have also finished an appraisal, been working on my Anthem Quest (Jan/early Feb is when most baseball teams schedule anthems,) and for it, written a blog piece for a friend’s sports website, also since I just found out my SWE seminar proposal was accepted, I’ve been reaching out to winemakers asking for juice to make sure I have what I want in August, plus going back-and-forth with Dad about a possible wine inventory in NH during my days off next week.

In almost 2 weeks, I’ve watched only 5 hours of TV. My alarm goes off at 7am so I can get a few hours of study in before rehearsal (I’m way too fried afterwards.) I worry that I will have problems sustaining this pace; though I know I won’t be in rehearsal for the majority of the year, I am motivated to carve out study time so I don’t fall behind. Veee shall see…

Side note: why does the WSET “week” start on a FRIDAY? That makes zero sense to me, and is confusing.

Week 2 – Unit 2, Vine Management

Two Activities: Winter pruning, “Other Management Activities,” plus finishing the group activity from the prior week.

Monday (today) is my day off, so I’m able to get a bunch of studying done. I read the Study Guide pages relating to winter pruning, plus reviewed Skelton’s thoughts, and did my activity. Yay! Hoping to highlight and notate most of the remaining pages today. Then I have three+ days to do the Week 1 Practice Test (I’m scared haha), the second Week 2 activity, and finish up the W1-2 group activity.

I’m actually worried about the group activity, because only one other person has really contributed so far. It’s “my” team, (it was my idea, and I started us off,) so I feel I have to do more, like put a LOT more info on the wiki pages today, to at least guide the group’s efforts. But mama also needs to hit the grocery, gym, and I’m getting a massage today, so… balance!

I was able to really get ahead of the curve this week. But there still seems to always be something left to do. Highlighted pages to notate. A blog post on how you feel you’re doing so far. The weekly test. I still worry that there is more to do for the group activity, but I’ve already done a ton, and kind of don’t feel like doing any more, especially when only one other person from my group seems to have contributed more than a few sentences.

I'm glad I didn't waste time trying to learn all of my online classmates' names and locations; only about half of the people contribute AT ALL. Participation is not required--you don't get a boost for doing well, or penalized for not doing anything--but I wish there was SOME kind of bonus for those of us who make the effort!

Week 5 – Unit 2 (W3: Grapes, W4: Pests and Diseases, W5: Winemaking Processes)

Moving right along. Assimilating my studies into my life upon return home post-play has been interesting. I don’t have a regular schedule, so sometimes I study in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes at night, sometimes all three. (Reminds me of my least-favorite Practice Test questions’ list of answers: 1) a and b only, 2) b and d only, 3) a, b, and c 4) all of the above.) Somehow the reading for this week is the same as last week, which is great, because I didn’t finish it! I did spend a lot of time last week on the flowcharts for white, rosé, and red winemaking decisions, and actually got good praise from our instructor Tommasella!! Woo-hoo!! This week, I busted out my first activity – on restricting the oxidative enzymes laccase and tyrosinase, sexxxxy – but am dragging my heels on the warm vs. cool climate considerations relating to a variety of vinification topics. I’ll finish my highlighting/notetaking first.

Later: I finally got around to contributing to the warm vs. cool activity under ONE topic, haha. With a caveat; I said that I tried to take Tommasella’s critiques for others under consideration, but then it felt like mine was too general. So I wonder what she’ll say! Some of these activities are definitely more helpful than others, I will say. Update: I got a “Good post, Annie” WINNING!

I’ve been to a lot of auditions, got a few callbacks, but no bookings yet. If I can manage to get something for the early summer, that would take some pressure off; I know money will come in and I’ll get to be on a show schedule for a month or two. 

Week 7 – Unit 2 (W6: Winery Considerations, W7: Post-fermentation Operations.)

The end of Unit 2 is in sight! I kind of can’t wait. While I’m still auditioning (and very well, I might add, though still no bookings,) I do want to section off a week or so to go down to FL and spend time with Mom and Dad. WHY NOT REVIEW ON A BEACH?!

I feel like my notetaking this week is never-ending. Yes, I’m also trying to fill out flash cards at the same time, which slows me down a scootch. But it’s already Wednesday and I still have over half of it to go.

But I contributed a few entries to this week’s Activity and got high praise from Ms. Tommasella! Two “Good insights, Annie”s and a  “Very good answer, Annie.” I think some of my colleagues/fellow students just blurt back the talking points from the study guide. I try to build off of a foundation of them, and that seems to be encouraged.

Revision! (W8: Packaging)

I made it. No more Study Guide notes to take or Activities to do. Phew. My exam isn’t for three weeks, so I have a LOT of time to review and study. My plan is to finish making my notecards this week (and if I manage to, I’ll read pertinent sections of Oxford Companion and take additional notes.) While I’m in FL I’ll review two units per day at first, then devote a whole day to each unit. Then I still have three days before I go to Philly for the exam set aside for the stuff that keeps tripping me up.

I’m more concerned with details vs. base of knowledge – on the practice tests, there is often more than one answer that seems like it’s right – so I’ll just keep drilling the specifics. Once I “get” something pretty darn close, I’ll remove the notecard from the stack. At this point, I’m fairly certain I’ll do okay, so I’m not totally freaking out! But I’ll say it again – it is A LOT.

Review, continued.

I went down to FL and it was great to see Mom and Dad, but I GOT SHINGLES! (When the urgent care doctor asked, “Have you been stressed lately,” I was, like, “More than usual?” haha.) I’m on the medication, and it’s improving, but the meds have me logey and headachy and my stomach isn’t a fan, so that’s not helpful. I was able to finish my notecards – very behind that schedule – and I’ve actually been enjoying reading supplementary chapters from Jamie Goode’s “The Science of Wine” book. Not sure how much it’ll help me on the exam in particular, but a nice way to review information.

I went through notecards for most of the sections, but some are easier to “memorize” than others. Took the Philly Wine School practice test and got an 85 (Pass with Distinction)! Two questions I guessed on I got right, one other “layup” I got wrong cus I was stupid and jumped at it, saying Ruby Cabernet was a cross between CS and Grenache, when I KNEW it was Carignan. D’oh. But that practice test seemed way easier than the ones in the Study Guide. On the study guide I got a 73 so passed with Merit. I really want to nail all of these practice tests, but I suppose just passing should be the goal. 

I think I will have to really go over rootstocks/trellis/soil stuff; a question always seems to pop up like, “If you have a low-vigor site with sandy soil, what is the best trellis,” and I’m like… um….?


Well, readers -- I took the exam, and earned a Pass with Distinction, hurrah!! I knew there was no way I'd get EVERY question right, so just focused on the ones I knew straightaway, then used logic to whittle down options for the others. I guess all of that study and review were worth it. 

One Unit down, five to go. Up next, Unit 1: The Business of Wine. To be continued...

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