New figures from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) reveal that the demand for wine and spirits education is higher than ever both in South Africa and globally.
WSET, the largest global provider of qualifications in the field of wines and spirits, is reporting a record 85 487 candidates taken globally in the academic year finishing 31 July 2017, an increase of 19% on last year, marking 15 years of growth. The UK continued to lead the global table with candidate numbers up 14% to 19 401 with Mainland China and USA following closely behind, while South Africa fell in 11th place seeing 14% growth in candidate numbers compared to the 2015-16 academic year.
As more and more consumers seek to learn more about wine and spirits, the need for more knowledgeable staff is rising, encouraging and businesses to prioritise formal training and accredited qualifications to cater to customers’ discerning tastes.
Top 10 WSET Markets for the Academic Year 2016/17 (growth from previous year):
- UK (+14%)
- Mainland China (+41%)
- USA (+48%)
- Canada (+4%)
- Hong Kong (+16%)
- France (+32%)
- Australia (+27%)
- Taiwan (+5%)
- South Korea (+13%)
- Switzerland (+11%)
- South Africa (+14%)
WSET chief executive, Ian Harris, explains the demand for wine education as follows, “Globally the wine and spirits industry is very dynamic and more businesses are recognising that the quality education and training that WSET offers is important to help the industry adapt and support its continual success.
“Consumers have a much wider choice of beverage than ever before and are more conscious of what they are drinking. Approximately 30% of our candidates are now consumer enthusiasts. Consequently, there is an increasing need for all sectors of the industry (producers, wholesalers, distributors, and customer-facing staff in retail and hospitality) to have staff with the requisite product knowledge to be able to cater to customers’ expanding tastes.
“Businesses are prioritising formal training and accredited qualifications to take advantage of the opportunity for the higher margins this consumer interest creates, driven by the evidence of return on investment.
WSET offers formal qualifications in wines, spirits and sake at four progressive levels. To achieve a qualification a student will participate in a course of study and successfully complete the required assessment(s). WSET courses are available through a network of 750 Approved Programme Providers across the world.
As participants progress through the qualification levels they will gain deeper knowledge on the production methods, base ingredients and regional variations for each drink and how these impact flavour and quality. They will also learn key classifications and labelling terminology. As the highest qualification, the Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits requires 600 hours of Total Qualification Time to provide expert level knowledge that also covers the global trade in wines and spirits, this course is typically completed over two years. At Levels 2 and above students can also opt for online learning over classroom attendance.
Upon successful completion of a qualification participants receive a WSET certificate and lapel pin. Diploma graduates are also invited to attend a graduation ceremony and are able to use the post-nominal DipWSET and associated WSET certified logo.
Ian believes wine education can contribute to the growth of wine tourism. “As one of our educators commented to me recently ‘a rising tide floats all ships’. The impacts of education for our sector are manifold and that most definitely extends to benefits for wine tourism too.
“Through WSET courses, we showcase wines from over 15 significant wine producing countries across the world, with the option for additional local samples to be used when appropriate. As is often the case, knowledge sparks intrigue for deeper knowledge, and so many students are inspired to visit wineries in regions showcased on WSET courses to see the methods in action and build up their tasting experience.
“Furthermore, they may then be inspired to visit emerging wine regions to continue applying the skills they learned through their education. Cellar doors are uniquely poised to support tasting experiences for consumers. Having educated customer facing staff to host these consumers during their visits will improve their experience and drive further interest, translating to sales.
“Additionally, we are seeing an increasing trend towards ‘edu-tourism’, where students are seeking to undertake their WSET course in a wine producing region, adding an experiential element to their education. Many of our Approved Programme Providers are in close proximity to working wineries, and reap the benefits of students looking to learn about wine in the heartland of a region’s production.”