When you signed up for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses what did you want to have happen?
I started studying the WSET in 1988 at the beginner level called The WSET Wine Certificate (Perhaps between Level 1 and Level 2 of now) and then I did The WSET Higher Wine Certificate after (a sort of in between Level 2 and Level 3 of now, less difficult than Level 3 now but more difficult than Level 2 now). Then I did the WSET Diploma. I started the WSET Programme to give me a wine study structure. I was offered to go straight onto the Higher Wine Certificate but I refused as I wanted to start from the very beginning. I was starting to do a lot of Sommelier Competitions at the time so for me the WSET Programme was a great way to give me some wine study and knowledge on top my personal wine study.
Gerard Basset – Sommelier training
I had started studying wine in 1985 to prepare le CAP Sommelier in France (Certificate of Professional Aptitude of Sommelier, this qualification was replaced by the Mention Complémentaire de Sommelier a few years later). At the time the CAP Sommelier was the French National Sommelier exam. I did prepare it from living in the UK and just went a week in France to take the exam. I succeeded but it was difficult. Then in 1986 I started to do Sommelier Competitions. At that time in the UK there were a few of them (England Southern Sommelier, Best UK Sommelier for French Wines and Spirits, UK Sommelier of the Year) and if you won some of them you could go to the International Competitions (Best Sommelier of Europe, Best International Sommelier for French Wines & Spirits, Best Sommelier in the World).
Gerard Basset – WSET structure
Until I started the WSET Programme my wine study had been very personal and not very structured. It was really me reading books and doing blind tasting exercises and working as Sommelier in a restaurant so not a really structured method. By doing the WSET Programme I wanted to follow a system that would teach me a lot on different wine and spirit aspects. When you study by yourself you tend to focus on what you like more, but doing a programme you have to follow that programme, so it can be a bit unstructured.
Gerard Basset – winning a WSET Scholarship
Moving from WSET Wine Certificate to WSET Wine Higher Certificate was relatively easy and in fact I won a Scholarship at the WSET Wine Higher Certificate. For the WSET Scholarship I did a long multiple choice questionnaire for which all the people with highest marks in the UK were invited to take part. I did well and won a trip of a week in Italy (Tuscany and Umbria). I really loved it and I was very proud to have achieved this level. It was also the start for me of doing many wine trips. However, I should have waited before going onto the WSET Diploma. I struggled for the Diploma as my written English was not great and I did not understand the concept of essay writing. I passed the Diploma but not with flying colours and I passed because I had an excellent wine knowledge but it was difficult for me to express it well during the Diploma. I should have waited two years and taken some English writing lessons during that time. It is what I did when I started the MW Programme.
Gerard Basset – ‘argue like a barrister’
The MW Programme was different as it was almost (I think is) a self-study programme with some mentors to help and one or two seminars and a few blank exercises along the way. Whilst I think the Diploma is a wonderful exam (nowadays very difficult) I must say I love the way the MW works. For the blind tasting you don’t need to describe the wines but you have to argue why you think it is a Chardonnay from New Zealand or a why it is a Barolo. For the essay part you have to argue well your point of view. I think the saying for the MW is ‘Investigate like a detective and argue like a barrister!’
Thank you for this insight Gerard and finally if someone is considering signing up for a WSET course what would you say to them?
I would say: “Go for it, you will love every minute of it. The WSET courses are superbly structured and you will learn so much. In addition, the WSET Courses are now recognised worldwide, even in France many employers of the wine trade require WSET Qualifications when they recruit employees.”
To find out how to start on the route to becoming a Master of Wine and the World’s best Sommelier see what courses you can study with us here http://enjoydiscoveringwine.com/events/