Wine Enthusiast vs Industry Professional – What is Your Path?

Does the learning journey differ for enthusiasts versus professionals? Yes, and no. In this missive, we explain it all.

by Catherine Bugue, VP of Education, Co-Founder NVWA

It’s not like all wine enthusiasts walk around carrying a two-bottle wine bag and sport ‘I love wine’ t-shirts. Not everyone anyway. And it’s not like all folks in the wine trade wear pins that declare their status in the industry.

Well, some do, but they’ve worked hard on certifications to get that pin, so ‘wear on’. But when it comes to wine, people are often tagged with these two general categories: wine enthusiast and industry professional. Whether you have a passion for wine but do not work in the industry, are considered an enthusiast, or are a professional working with wine, wine itself sparks a desire to learn.

Once you start learning about wine, it seems that every fact you discover leads to an exciting new rabbit hole. You are Alice, falling into Greece, Portugal, and Spain—taking journeys all around the world and finding new things at every turn. 

Does the learning journey differ for enthusiasts versus professionals? Yes, and no. 

For industry professionals, in particular, being able to discuss and taste wine in a professional setting generally leads to formal education, which certifies knowledge and tasting skills. These certifications are then added to business cards and resumes to provide a competitive edge in the marketplace.

One common educational path for professionals is the WSET’s offerings of certification levels 1 through 4, with increasingly advanced knowledge and skills as you advance up the levels. The WSET Level 3, for instance, provides a broad knowledge of the wine styles, quality levels, and prices of wines from around the world. Particularly helpful when you are selling wine and need to discuss those styles or why the prices fall in a particular range. 

And the WSET courses include a systematic way of tasting wine, so we all speak about wine in the same general language. It lets us talk to colleagues, customers, or staff members in a clear, concise way and provides confidence to the taster as they use this globally-recognized and respected systematic way of assessing wines. Whipping out phrases such as ‘it smells like my grandmother’s basement’ will help no one understand you or the wine if they can’t relate to the experience you’re conjuring!

For those who sell or distribute wine, the WSET’s knowledge build is very helpful, as when a customer wishes to buy a classic Chianti Classico. You will know what style they mean and be able to show several SKUs that fit the bill. Or, when selling wine in a retail shop, you can give a short description of the wine and even offer recommendations for ideal food pairings. 

Work with spirits or sake more than wine? There are WSET certification levels for spirits and sake as well. Coming soon is a certification for beer!

Therefore, for professionals, WSET is one clear pathway towards knowledge, tasting skills, and recognition. Often, though, as students start taking the generalist studies of the WSET, they want to deep dive into particular regions, and so they take the American Wine Expert, so they understand the particular labeling and other laws of the U.S., as well as particulars on, say, New York Rieslings or Sonoma Pinot Noirs, they are selling. 

Do you expect a very different path for enthusiasts? 

Enthusiasts, too, are curious about how to talk about wine—how to conjure up aromas and flavors, how to know if a wine has low or high acidity or tannins, or be able to decipher why people like the wines they do. They, too, start learning about certain grape varieties but then crave to know more: why that same grape produces a wine so very different from one wine region in France versus one in Australia. 

So while you might expect the journey of a wine enthusiast to diverge at some point from that of the trade professional, that is not necessarily what we see in wine education today. The Napa Valley Wine Academy (NVWA) surveys students and finds that, for example, half of a class at the WSET Level 3 may be enthusiasts, either desiring to learn more about wine or planning on entering the wine industry as a second or third career.

Yet, if a certification is not on your ‘must have’ list and you have no desire to take certification exams, but you crave the knowledge all the same, the NVWA’s Wine 101 offers an alternative.  Knowledge as well as tasting skills are covered. For tasting techniques, the course comes with an aroma wheel and live tasting webinar to help guide you through how to taste wine. This can be followed with Wine 201, which expands upon your knowledge of world wines. 

An enthusiast’s journey through the NVWA could look like this: Wine 101, Wine 201, and then the NVWA’s Membership, which includes hundreds of videos, documentaries, and webinars on wine, tasting wine, food and wine pairings, wine regions around the world, interviews with wine luminaries and more. Choose what you want to learn next and just click on the entry within Membership to learn it. 

Or take Wine 101, Wine 201, and then go straight into deeper dives with the American Wine Expert, which can then lead to a deep dive of Napa Valley wine with the Napa Valley Wine Expert.

All of these NVWA courses include optional exams, easily taken online within your course, with a certification to print when the exam is passed.

The question really is: what will your journey look like? And we are here to help you answer the question. We love to talk about wine and guide people on the best journey for them.a

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