Wine Courses Debut in Walla Walla

Prestigious WSET program brings wine appreciation to Eastern Washington

by Peter Mitham
Paul Gregutt WSET Washington class
Wine writer and educator Paul Gregutt will teach the Walla Walla WSET classes.
Walla Walla, Wash. -- The appreciation of fine wine is about to rise a notch in Eastern Washington with the first offering of Wine and Spirit Education Trust courses in Walla Walla.

Established in 1969, WSET is based in London, England, and operates in 47 countries. Students who complete the program's top level -- one of the most prestigious wine education courses in the world -- receive a WSET diploma. The courses are offered in several locations across North America.

James Cluer, principal of British Columbia-based Fine Vintage Ltd. (Fine Vintage LLC in the U.S.) has offered the courses in Alberta, British Columbia and Washington state for several years, but the introductory course planned for next month in Walla Walla marks the program's debut in the heart of Washington wine country.

A one-day foundation program is set for Sept. 12, with a three-day intermediate certificate program to follow a month later. Seattle wine writer Paul Gregutt, who lives part-time just north of Walla Walla in Waitsburg, Wash., will teach both courses. Registration is capped at 22 people each. (Editor's note: After this Headline was published, the class was postponed until late fall 2009.)

"Eastern Washington is the center of wine production in Washington state and a lot of those people are not necessarily going to drive to Seattle to take a professional wine course," Cluer explained. "It seemed like a logical, natural progression for us." The launch is raising the profile of WSET courses in Washington, with some Walla Walla residents opting to travel to British Columbia to take the courses because it suits their schedules, even though Cluer launched WSET courses in Seattle in 2008.

Gregutt believes WSET's courses are essential to broadening the palates of members of the trade, from winemakers to retail staff. He notes that they're also helpful for collectors who seek a better appreciation for what they're putting in their cellars. WSET study can help develop what Gregutt terms a "global palate."

"We've got very good wine schools now, and we're kicking out people who want to make wine or work in wineries or work at tasting rooms; but they know the wines of the region. They don't necessarily have a background in the world," he told Wines & Vines. "This is going to fill that need."

Similarly, wine aficionados have opportunities in larger centers to buy and taste wines not offered in Walla Walla and other winemaking areas of Eastern Washington. WSET course offerings in Eastern Washington promise to help develop a local wine culture, Gregutt says.

"In the big cities…you have importers, distributors, major trade tastings, restaurants with extensive wine lists, wine shops with extensive wine selections and free tastings, oftentimes. There's a tremendous amount of opportunity. This just doesn't exist in Eastern Washington," Gregutt says.

Getting approvals for the course offerings in Walla Walla took time, however. Gregutt recalls that he began discussing the idea with Cluer a year ago, but difficulties securing approvals from the Washington State Liquor Control Board for the courses, to be held at Walla Walla's Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center, delayed the offering by several months.

The foundation course will include: the main types and styles of wine, how to taste, matching food and wine, characteristics of the classic grapes varieties, how wine is made; buying, cellaring and serving wine and local wines.

The intermediate course will cover: growing grapes, making wine, the art of tasting, food and wine matching, classic grape varieties, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese wines, New World wine regions, sparkling and fortified wines and the major spirits.

All-inclusive costs for the courses, which are scheduled for weekends, are $299 for the foundation course and $795 for the intermediate course. Optional certificate exams are $70 and $105, respectively.
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