«Education on wine must be part of the business plan of every company in the wine industry». These words belong to the CEO Ian Harris Dip. WSET MBE, the man who since 2002 is leading the most accomplished wine educational organization in the world. The WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) marks this year its 50th anniversary from the date of its founding and the 750ml wine blog has the honor of celebrating this anniversary with a special edition. We met Mr. Ian Harris in his office in London where WSET has its chair. He shared with us very interesting elements on the – unknown to many people – past, on the fascinating present and on the much more promising future.
Impressive development of WSET in numbers
- Founded as a non-profit organization in 1969. That year about 2000 students were enrolled. Initially only 3 certificates of study were available to entrepreneurs in the field of wine.
- In the first eight years, classes were only taking place in London. In 1977 the educational program expanded beyond the UK, in Ireland and in Canada.
- Until the end of 1990, WSET started to expand in Europe, USA, Middle East, Asia, Australia and in 1991 the curriculum was available in France too.
- The year 1990 is a milestone since all friends of wine around the world were able to have access to the curriculum.
- In 2007 the number of students from third countries surpassed the number of British students.
- In 2016 the first international office was inaugurated in Hong Kong.
- The educational programs now are available in 74 countries all over the world and have been translated in more than 15 languages.
- Last year the number of students amounted to 94.822 globally and this year they are expected to surpass the 100.000 mark.
Actions and initiatives for the celebration of 50 years of WSET
The message of Mr. Ian Harris is the following: “2019 is a very important year in WSET. We are going to celebrate this event inviting all our partners and students from all over the world for a historical flashback. We must inspire the next generation of wine lovers and entrepreneurs to get the best education possible so that the wine industry can thrive for another 50 years”. We were informed that due to the anniversary a commemorative book will be written by David Wrigley MW with reference to the first alumni of the school. It will focus on how the education of WSET has boosted the global wine industry to flourish via distinguished entrepreneurs. Also, for the first time a wine event will be organized in the week of 9 to 15 September 2019, titled “Wine Education Week”. More than 100 educational events are scheduled in 30 countries for wine lovers. Additionally, an international panel of judges will select 50 talented individuals – representing all aspects of the wine industry – from all around the globe. This initiative is called “The future 50”.
“We update our syllabus because the world constantly changes”
According to Μr. Ian Harris: “From 1st of August of this year a new curriculum will be added, dealing exclusively with spirits. The new curriculum will enrich the 3rd level of studies”. Distinguishing between spirits and wine is deemed necessary for all 4 levels. The aim of this segregation is to provide an as much as possible customized and thorough learning experience related to spirits, wines and sake. Mr. Harris went on to make a flashback by saying: “In 1980 when I got my diploma, it was enough to know about Bordeaux, Burgundy, Port and Sherry for somebody to be able to qualify for it. But recently the program of studies includes the whole world of wines and spirits”.
Mr. Harris emphasised that the beverage industry is very different from the wine industry citing a simple example: “If you want to enjoy a gin and tonic you will go to a bar specializing in spirits, if you wish to drink a good wine you need to go to a wine bar or to a restaurant with an up-to-date list of wines. Of course consumers who would like to know about wine, display their interest about whisky and sake as well.”
Sake: The only spirit with independent knowledge certification in WSET
Sake possesses a special place among the spirits in WSET. A special syllabus with a corresponding individual certification was designed exclusively for sake. A beverage with historic tradition, which was enjoyed by nobility and samurai is now established all over the world. “Consumers who seek good quality wine, search also for sake. In Japan as well as in good restaurants in London, Paris and New York you will find good quality sake”, he explains and adds: “One reason why we introduced the new line of study (sake) is that the wine studies did not have the expected take up in Japan. This changed with the introduction of the sake line of study”.
The positioning of Greek wines in the syllabus
One of the main subjects in our agenda was related to the Greek wine and its positioning in the syllabus. We asked Mr. Ian Harris what is the extend to which some of the most promising Greek varieties like Vidiano, Mavrodafni, Kydonitsa, Mavrotragano are part of the curriculum. His answer was: “when the recognition of these varieties will extend beyond the borders of your country and is converted to sales, then these varieties will find their place in the syllabus. For example, Assyrtiko is developing into a global variety. It has a universal dynamic and is already cultivated by producers in Australia”.
To our question as to what extend the Greek wine producers are competitive, he replied: “Yes, they are competitive, but the credibility of the wines suffers from the inside. Greece produces astonishingly good wines but tourists seldom taste them. The food and beverage industry does not observe the right rules of storage and service. Your country depends on tourism. There should be a connection between the wine producers and the ministry of tourism, so that the ministry advertise the country as a fantastic destination for wine lovers. Providing up-to-date and valid information regarding the visiting possibilities of wine producers as well as setting up wine tourism network following the South African standards (with reference to our recent article) is a subject of priority”.
The contribution of WSPC in wine education in Greece
The WSPC (Wine & Spirit Professional Center) constitutes an exclusive partner of WSET in Greece. From the first moments of our conversation, Mr. Ian Harris expressed his deep esteem for Mr Konstantinos Lazarakis MW, director of the School. A School that every year shows considerable growth in the number of students and alumni despite the fact that Greece is small country. With more than 12.000 students in total and 1800 in the current year, WSPC is the top wine education provider in our country. An example of quality growth is the constantly high success rate in the exams.
Only during the course of its 4th year of operation, in 2009 , WSPC was awarded as the best educational branch globally! The Award is bestowed every year in the Guildhall of London and takes into consideration not only the proficiency of the students but also innovative methods in education.
Our country, through WSPC, will actively participate in the celebrations of the 50 years of WSET. Greece will host events under the auspices of the “Wine Education Week”, which will be announced in detail in the near future. Chronologically they coincide with the 15th anniversary of the WSPC (2004-2019), which makes their significance even greater. Wine tastings and other festive events will take place in the new School premises.
The significance of the Asian market for WSET
Knowing that WSET opened in 2016 its first international office in Hong Kong, we asked Mr Ian Harris about the dynamism of Asia and more specifically that of China. He showed us a graph concerning the total number of students by country during last year. Almost 20.000 British students, 15.000 students in the US and more than 15.000 in China with an increasing trend was the answer to our question. “The more the number of Chinese students increases, the more their knowledge of wines globally will expand. Previously, the Chinese market was asking for more French wines but consumers now realise that very good wines exist in other countries too. We opened an office in Hong Kong in order to serve better the Asian market, which is continuously growing”.
Big trends that will shape the global wine map
We asked Mr. Harris about the trends that he sees in the global market. According the CEO of WSET there are new indicators on how the market will evolve globally. Firstly of all, China which up to now had a consumer role, will also play a leading role as a wine producer. The economic robustness in conjunction with Chinese investment plans and the fact that they are hiring distinguished wine experts, further boosts the ascending trend of Chinese wines. Their orientation towards extending the domestic production will result in the Chinese wine becoming competitive on a global scale.
Τhailand and India produce wine and present good perspectives, whereas the UK produces quality wines but in very small quantities. Japan takes its first steps in this direction. More and more countries with big wine production will take a leading role as exporters with the customers being the biggest countries in terms of consumption internationally.
In the field of spirits, Μr Ian Harris believes that what will prevail is the trend for more categorization and further specialization. He mentioned gin which development is galloping at 25% on a global scale without any negative signs of this course.
We, as 750 ml, believe that WSET is not only the largest educational wine organization in the world but that is also leading and shaping wine and spirit trends globally. Guided by global educational standards, students acquire valuable knowledge and apply it to the whole spectrum οf business activities in the wine industry. In the primary sector these range from choosing which grape variety to cultivate in the vineyard, to shaping of the commercial policy in the market. Given the global reputation of the School and the phenomenal increase in the number of students, the influence of WSET in the global wine industry is indisputable. The common goal of all those involved with wine is the prosperity of the sector; for this to materialize education at the highest standards is of utmost significance.
750ml.gr, Dimitris Perisoratis-Editor in chief
The article is also available in Greek under the following link: 750ml.gr
Special thanks to Ivi Polihronidou and Panagiotis Kriaris for the translation