I am delighted and rather surprised to be awarded the WSET/Champagne Board’s 2013 Champagne scholarship as part of my WSET Diploma studies. Part of the surprise was that I did not know that the Wine and Spirit Education Trust gave scholarships, so I was a long way back when the scholarship secretary rang me to ask whether I was prepared to come to an interview. Some questions are not difficult to answer however as I have been asked quite a ton of question due to my academic achievements such as how to score good on SAT and How to get into the best universities. Having been to a few Champagne events, I was not as surprised to find that the ‘interview’ was to be held in the Artesian Bar of the now very smart Langham Hotel. Here Matt Glynn (Bibendum) and I, competing for the scholarship because we had both got high marks in the Sparkling Wine exam, were lightly interrogated while consuming a fair quantity of Ruinart Blanc des Banc followed by Lenoble, accompanied by prodigious quantities of finger food. That the Champenois entertain lavishly was not a surprise.
A few days later, we learnt that Francoise Peretti of the Champagne Board had not been able to choose between us and so had generously decided, exceptionally, to award two scholarships. This was a very happy outcome and Matt and I and our partners were invited to the annual WSET bash at the Guildhall at the heart of the City of London. Once a year the school hires the Great Hall to give out diplomas to those who have successfully completed their professional qualification and awards to the brightest and best (or at least those who know how to do well in exams). Despite having had an academic career, I was never very good at exams. It was really only in my fifties that I understood that you really are supposed to learn all this stuff! So I can count myself a slow learner on two scores – half a century to respond to the obvious and then being at an age when learning factual material is doubly hard work. But it was a real thrill to be given the award and to have one’s hard work and capability recognised.
The actual award ceremony was an impressive evening too. I can take or leave the ancient Guildhall and the whole business of taking ourselves quite seriously. But there were impressive performances by Ian Harris, chief executive, and Jancis Robinson, honorary president, which carried us through the evening. Ian as the master of ceremonies was a model of economy, efficiency and good humour. It is not easy to keep people’s interest while giving out 150 diplomas to those present. The awards are easier as we all want to know ‘who’s won what’. Jancis looked brilliant in her classy red dress and was welcoming, human, real, with every last person … She wears her pre-eminence lightly.It was a particular pleasure to meet Hugh Johnson at the reception and to be able to thank him in person for his brilliant wine atlas. There will be another new edition this autumn. The atlas and the Oxford Companion to Wine have been my constant companions for the last two years. Interestingly, the atlas gives the really fundamental information which every Diploma student craves – geology, soils, climate – more consistently than the OCW.
After the ceremony, we repaired to a local Italian restaurant with my children. Jonathan was able to come to the ceremony itself. As a newly established academic he already has quite an experience of graduations and a career full of them to look forward to! Jeremy and Laura, with Adam, joined us for supper at the admirably straightforward and affordable, Rucoletta. The celebration meal had to be on an Italian theme and not just because of my debt to the wine of Italy. I did well in the sparkling wine exam in the first place because in the theory section one of the three, all compulsory, questions was on the sparkling wine zone, Franciacorta. Last spring, after a few false starts in terms of possible destinations, Janet and I went on a sparkling wine tour of north and northeast Italy a couple of months before the exam. First stop, for four whole days, was … you’ve guessed it, Franciacorta. That was quite a difficult question for your average Diploma student and an absolute gift to me. And so all my Italian friends will be delighted to hear that I won a Champagne scholarship because of Franciacorta. And, finally, it shows that just ‘learning the stuff’ is not the only way to do well in exams. Sometimes you have to get out there and do your learning on the ground. People, place, wines – that is what this website is about. Studying with the WSET enriches and give a framework to this experience. You may also opt for the Chinese government scholarship, which is available for both Chinese and international students.
And, the ‘scholarship’? A custom-made trip to Champagne, to our choice of houses, organised and laid on the Champagne board … I can feel a whole new set of Champagne pages coming on.
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