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Why WSET 2?
There are a number of different wine certification courses available depending on what goals you have. After doing a bunch of research, WSET 2 seemed like the best fit for me. I classify myself as a super curious wine nerd that is already comfortable with the basics!
Wine Certification Options
Here is quick explanation of each:
Wine & Spirit Education Trust
- starts at a much more basic level
- considered the "feeder" program for the Master of Wine
- good for those looking to be an importer or distributor
- 4 levels from very basic to diploma
Court of Master Sommeliers
- big focus on service and customer interaction - think beverage director for a restaurant
- there are 4 levels to advance through
Society of Wine Educators
- mainly for those that want to teach wine and spirits classes
- there are 2 levels Specialist & Educator for each wine and spirits
Institute of the Masters of Wine
- viewed as the highest achievement in wine
- it's like getting a doctorate in wine and requires a research paper to complete along with a vigorous blind taste exam
- 3 stages (min 3 years)
Check out this wine education courses guide at Wine Folly for more detailed info certification options.
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The Right Path for My Wine Journey
Ultimately, Wine & Sprit Education Trust was the right choice for me at this point in my wine journey. If you're like me and already have a pretty decent background knowledge in the basics of wine, you should be able to do what I did and jump straight into WSET 2.
Everyone I talked to during my course that had taken level 1. They all said that it was a very basic course. So if you're like me and have had an in-depth wine tasting and a basic familiarity with the major grapes, you can skip it.
Choosing Napa Valley Wine Academy
After deciding that WSET 2 was the right course, I had to decide what provider to take it with. It was a pretty easy decision because I live in the Tampa area and the Napa Valley Wine Academy holds in-person classes here.
Super convenient! It's also held over the weekend at a really nice restaurant. Sounds like a great date night opportunity after class to me!
If you don't live in one of the 8 cities where Napa Valley Wine Academy hosts live training, they do have online courses. As another option, you can search for other providers on the WSET Global site. You can easily enter your location and what course you want and find a whole list of providers!
As I mentioned, I WAS going to take the in-person Napa Valley Wine Academy: WSET 2 course in April 2020... but then coronavirus happened. No more in-person classes.
First, they offered the choice for online or alternative dates in the future. I really wanted the in-person experience and was not in a rush since this is 100% a fun hobby for me. So, I chose to push my date out until July.
With big gatherings still not happening in July, Napa Valley Wine Academy moved us all to online. My 5-week online course started August 7th and ended September 11th. They provided a voucher to order a wine kit since we would not be tasting together. In addition, they also provided a credit back to use toward future course. Online course costs less than in-person.
WSET 2 Online Format
Napa Valley Wine Academy WSET 2 Online was set up as a 5-week course. It consists of study materials, 2 live webinars with an instructor, and a 6 mini-bottle wine tasting kit for the tasting assignments.
*I believe that they have updated to 4 live webinars since I took the course. In addition, they also have added video lessons. Just a testament to their commitment to enhancing their content in the virtual space.
WSET 2 Study Materials
I received my study materials pretty early before the online class was scheduled to begin. This was because I originally signed up for an in-person course.
I was provided with :
- the textbook: WSET Level 2 Award in Wines Wines: Looking Behind the Label
- WSET Level 2 Award in Wines Workbook
- WSET Level 2 Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine Card with Wine-Lexicon
- Access to a course in the Online Wine Academy that:
- Outlined learning objectives
- Questions to think about while reading the text book
- Practice quizzes
After my in-person course was switched to virtual, I was emailed a voucher and instructions on how to order the wine tasting kit. Our instructor also offered us a coupon code for a free year of Stewardship from Wine.com. This was really handy. I could order a few more bottles for tasting without having to pay shipping!
My course had a main instructor and an assistant instructor. Each instructor held their own webinar so that students had at least 2 options of webinar times. As a result, either instructor might return comments on your tasting notes.
While they seemed very knowledgeable, there was very little interaction between the instructors and myself. However, it is possible other students experienced more if they chose to reach out on a 1:1 basis.
There were 2 webinars scheduled for this course. The first one was an expectations and meet the instructor zoom meeting lasting about 45 min. She made sure we could all log in, had our materials, knew the wines we'd need, etc.
The second webinar was a tasting example/calibration. We did the first tasting assignment as a group. For this webinar, the instructor walked us through the Systematic Approach to Tasting. It took about 45 min on a Zoom call.
That's it. No other instruction from a person unless you reached out with questions. If this had been the in-person course, there would have been 1.5 days of instruction. There lecture to go with the slides for each learning objective and opportunity for class discussion.
The slides were available in the Online Wine Academy. However, those and the workbook were a little bit useless with out the conversation and discussion to go with them in my opinion.
*As I mentioned above, it seems that NVWA has really beefed up the interaction and video options for this course since I took it in Aug/Sept 2020.
There are 6 tasting assignments in the Napa Valley Wine Academy WSET 2 course. Each tasting requires a minimum of 2 wines. 6 of those wines are included in the tasting kit and 6 others you will need to purchase on your own.
When tasting the wine, you make notes based on the WSET Level 2 Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine Card with Wine-Lexicon that you were provided. Our instructor set up some virtual tasting groups for those of us that were interested. I participated and met with 5 other classmates weekly to taste via Zoom meeting and discuss the wines.
You submit your tasting notes in the Online Wine Academy portal for review by the instructor. After a few days, the instructor sends comments back to you. I guess I make excellent notes, because I never got back any comments with corrections to my notes - though some other tasting group members did receive corrections.
Wine Tasting is NOT a part of the WSET 2 test. However, if you plan to move on to WSET 3, it a good idea to start practicing this format now because wine tasting is required for that certification.
To prepare for the test, I took notes as I read the textbook. After that, I went back and answered the learning objective questions in the online portal - section by section.
I also found it helpful to make some note pages with the information grouped in a different way.
Rewriting My notes By Region
The book is broken up by grape variety. In each section, it walks you through the basics on the grape and the breaks down how the grape is represented over the various growing regions.
I created some notes based on growing region and listed all the grapes found there and their characteristics specific to that region. It was a way for me to restructure the information that helped me pick it up and remember it better.
Same info + presented 2 ways = better retention (at least for me!)
WSET 2 Practice Questions
Napa Valley Wine Academy offers a lot of practice questions in the online course portal. I went though the ones at the end of each reading section several times and took the mock full exam once.
There is also a practice test in the back of the WSET 2 Workbook. I found this one MOST like the way the questions were worded on the actual exam.
Another fun option I found to review questions was the YouTube channel for The Grape Explorer. Here you can find short, about 10-min or less videos about specific topics with a short quiz. It was very entertaining!
WSET 2 Testing
The test for the WSET 2 certification is made up of 50 multiple choice questions that are spread out over 6 different learning objectives. You have 12 months from the completion of the course to schedule a proctored exam.
Normally, with the Napa Valley Wine Academy for an in-person class, this test is given at the end of 2 days of class. Since I took this class in the times of COVID, if I wanted to take something in person I would have needed to wait until they offer the test in-person again. I did not want to wait, so I opted for the online proctored test.
What is the Online Proctored Test Like?
The concept of the online proctored WSET 2 test is simple enough. If you choose to sign up, there are very detailed instructions on what is required to ensure that testing conditions are fair.
You take the test on a computer with a webcam filming you so that they can see that you're not cheating by talking to someone. Then, you set up an app that also records your screen - no cheating via the internet. AND you get a app for your phone and use your phone to video the room to show no notes or other items that might provide answers.
It was annoying to set up, but ultimately did not take that long (about 15 min for me). There were a few times when I saw a spinning wheel on the screen while something was processing. And so, it was hard because you didn't really know how long to keep waiting or if something was frozen. However, I got set up and was able to go through the test without technical issues.
Waiting on WSET 2 Results
Due to the current working remote conidiations, WSET it took about 12 weeks for me to receive my test results. It seems, some classes took less time and some more for review before posting scores. I'm guessing that the variation in grading time had a lot to do with the class sizes and any work restrictions that happened during review due to COVID. They were reviewing the video footage for each test taker to ensure no cheating.
You only need a 55% to pass and I felt very confident I did at least that well when I hit submit. You could kind of tell - this is an easy question, this one is definitely a hard question.
I'm pleased to say that I passed with an 85% or better and earned the the Pass with Distinction pin!
Personally, I would not take an online course for wine education with Napa Valley Wine Academy again. The material in the texts was great. That being said, I missed the interaction with other classmates. Even with the enhanced virtual interactions, I'm still not sure this format is right for me.
Since this is 100% a hobby for me, I can be picky about the experience I want with no need to rush a certification for a job. I do have a credit with them still, and I am excited to sign up for the WSET 3 with Napa Valley Wine Academy - when we can be in-person again!