How to become a wine educator for normal people

Most wine educators start by deepening your wine knowledge before your tasting skills. I argue they should develop your sensory acumen first.

Bryant sent me this question, 

I want to teach people how to enjoy wine or at least appreciate it. I took sommelier classes which offered a great foundation, but I don't know where to turn next. Can you please advise?

I want to share my response because it's all about wine education and enjoying wine.

Here's my answer.

What a noble mission to want to be a wine educator and teach people how to enjoy and appreciate wine. 

I can understand why the classical sommelier or WSET courses need more elements to teach others how to appreciate wine.

Why is that?

The existing curriculum for becoming a sommelier or a certified wine professional relies on the premise that you need to become a thorough product expert: an expert in viticulture practices, winemaking, wine regions, wine appellations, etc. 

While becoming a product expert makes sense when you plan a professional career in the wine industry, it doesn't make sense when you want to appreciate wine and know how to choose wines you'll love on the shelves.

When these organizations argue that wine lovers should take certification programs to enjoy wine, they miss the point. 

Most people want to understand the type of wine they enjoy the most, not the technicality of its production. 

That could come later, but not first in their education.

I'm always appalled when I go into a Tasting Room and the bar staff gives me the full identity card of each wine I'm about to taste, assuming I want to know it. I usually want to taste each wine and make up my mind on whether this wine has the flavor profile I enjoy the most. Then only after I might ask questions, and I will ask questions because I'm a wine lover and seek to develop my knowledge of wine.

But most of the population visiting tasting rooms or wine stores are not wine aficionados.

So how can wine educators teach people to enjoy wine?

First, tell them that we all experience wine flavors differently.

  • Share that if you enjoy a particular style of wine, they may not enjoy it. To this day, I have a hard time enjoying Cabernet Sauvignon, and many wine pros discount my opinion for that lack of enthusiasm. I'm sorry, I'm sensitive to green notes and can't change my sensory receptors.
  • Tell people that pricey wines may not be to their taste, and it's okay not to like them.
  • So that's the first thing we are all different; we come from different cultural backgrounds and sensory sensibilities. That's why we experience the wine world differently.

Second, help people enjoy wine by tasting with them. Explain what aroma, taste, and feelings you enjoy in a particular wine.

Don't tell them that's what they should taste - or go back to point #1.

  • Share what you enjoy, appreciate, and don't appreciate in a wine profile. It will encourage people to relate to your experience; if they don't, that's where a sensory education will help you help them. 
  • You will give them examples of the sensations you perceive in wine that can also be perceived in other food or beverages. And again, that's okay if they can't relate. But you'll be able to relate to their experiences.

So where can wine educators get this particular sensory training?

Unfortunately, the current certified programs through the Sommelier Guild or the Wine and Spirit Education Trust don't provide the necessary education to become a wine educator for regular consumers.

These programs are for aspiring professionals, people who will work in the trade as a sommelier in hospitality, wine buyers, or merchants. You need to be a product expert when you build a wine list in a restaurant or fill your store's inventory. You need to provide the best offering for your customers.

In these product expert programs, the training on how to taste wine is geared to train the professional's palate, not to train other people's palates. That's the major difference with the sensory approach to wine tasting. 

We, sensory scientists, train other people's palates.

Can I recommend any books or University programs?

There aren't any books or university programs that will teach you how to teach people to appreciate wine. That's why I started InnoVinum Academy, frankly.

The sensory programs at universities such as UC Davis will teach you the science of sensory perceptions and how we develop our food and wine preferences. They will teach you how to become a sensory scientist, who might not be your ambition.

The sensory courses will give you the basics of using sensory information to understand what people like or dislike about a product.

If you want to teach people how to appreciate wine, consider working with me.

The first step would be to take my course, Wine Aroma Description Made Easy.

In this program, I teach you the basics of sensory perceptions to guide a sensory-focused wine tasting. I share the psychological biases that can ruin one's wine-tasting experience. I also give you my framework for learning aromas and training your nose to identify them in wine.

I also host a monthly virtual tasting where I coach participants on describing their sensory experience when tasting wine. It's an excellent opportunity for wine educators to listen to how a sensory scientist moderates the discussion to focus on the sensory experience and not on what wine should taste.

That was a long answer.

I'm very passionate about the inadequacy of the current wine certification programs to help regular consumers to appreciate wine. I'd love to help you achieve your goal.

Let me know if you have further questions by contacting me here.

Categories: Best practices, Tasting education

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Isabelle Lesschaeve

Principal, Blog author, and Wine Tasting Coach

Internationally renowned wine sensory scientist, Isabelle demystifies wine tasting and helps serious wine lovers sharpen their tasting skills and tasting notes in a supportive community.

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