After months of studying, tasting with my study group, and obsessively checking the Northern California weather forecast (in the 70s every day, though I’m told that’s unseasonably warm), I’ve made it to the Napa Valley for my WSET Level III course at the Napa Valley Wine Academy.
Napa feels like Disney World for wine lovers. My AirBnB host told me her preferences for pinot over cabernet during her tour of the house. Every other storefront on my lovely forty-minute walk to class is a wine bar. The local grocery, Oxbow Public Market, has fresh produce, cupcakes, chocolate, cheese, charcuterie, and a wine bar inside. And I stopped at a wine bar the other night to find myself surrounded by industry folks talking shop with a local winemaker from White Rock who had jumped behind the bar to pour flights of his chardonnays, cab, and claret.
And that’s all outside of class.
WSET’s Level III course is the highest level you can place into without taking a prerequisite (that’s what I did), and so the class makeup is an incredible mashup of talent. My classmates include a woman from China who runs a wine-focused TV channel; the producer of the MerLove documentary; a guy from Europe who grew up in the sherry industry; a lab tech from a major California winery; and a CWS-certified somm. Oh, and a former WWOOF-er who worked harvest in Piemonte, Tuscany, and Sicily.
On the first day my instructor said he could see from the way our eyes were sparkling that we were a great class. Passion for wine here is not a quirk or a curiosity to be tolerated––it’s a must-have tool for success in an industry constantly balancing professional polish with blood, sweat and tears.
Our instructors are Masters of Wine, and one of them told me he could easily imagine me pursuing this certification, so I bit the bullet and looked it up. Unlike the Court of Master Sommeliers, which was made famous by the Somm film, Master of Wine is more of an academic rather than service-oriented certification. “It’s for people who think the idea of writing a thesis on a wine topic sounds like a good time,” I was told.
. . . You called?