In Wine
on 03 Apr 2019

I found out yesterday that I passed my last exam of the two-year WSET Diploma program. I re-read the email so many times, I actually screengrabbed it and made it my phone lock screen at one point (though I didn’t trust the image because I couldn’t refresh it, as if the results could somehow be redacted if the announcement email wasn’t connected to internet.)


This represents two years of work, two incredible tasting groups, countless flashcards, not a few tears, and so many late nights tasting with friends in Madison, Chicago and Portland, so I’m going to take a minute and talk about how damn lucky I am.

It took me eight years in the wine industry of resisting certification before I decided to get my WSET Advanced, because I believed wine had to be learned through doing. At least that’s what I told everyone. Deep down I also know that I doubted my test-taking ability and my knowledge, and after all if I publicly failed at something I love so much I’d just have to quit, and the ship had already sort of sailed on me becoming a lawyer or something.

While I still feel that working multiple sides of the industry gave me a breadth of perspective that will serve me the rest of my life, I was wrong about the academic part being less important. (Less accessible, certainly, and the first thing I’m lucky about is that I was able to do it at all.) I have made lifelong friends studying for my WSET Diploma. Furthermore, I don’t have to wonder where the gaps in my knowledge are; I found them, and I got my ass kicked for it, and rightly so.

Support comes in many forms. I can’t post about this without recognizing my incredible employers during this program, first Jarran Conger at In Fine Spirits and now Morgen McLaughlin at WVWA, and expressing my deepest gratitude. I can’t talk about this without thanking my amazing family, who became wine nerds right along with me and spent part of last Christmas blinding me on Unit 3 exam wines, and my partner, who never doubted, even when I did.

I can’t even imagine life, let alone surviving this program, without my dear friends who made me blind taste things when we hung out, let me crash on their couch during exams (or, in one case, for an entire month while I moved to Chicago to take my first big wine job), quizzed me, and cheered me on every step of the way.

I can’t believe how lucky I am to get to share an industry with and learn from my actual heroes, Elaine Chukan Brown and Bree Boskov Stock. And I’m thankful all the time that I have the best mentor in the world in Kim Oshiro.

Finally, there’s simply no pin for me without the people who took whole evenings to taste wine together and break apart the art and science of what’s in the glass in front of us. You all know who you are. Thank you, for everything.

At left: One of the more fun units.

Julia Burke is a wine educator and writer.