Yes, There are some Plus Factors from all the Lockdowns.

Might seem an unusual title for a Post, especially as Lockdown Fatigue has definitely taken it’s toll around the world. To all intent and purposes, here in Ireland, we have been restricted in our movements since March last year, almost 11 months now, and although there is a light at the end of the tunnel, with the advent of the vaccine roll-outs, that light is still very dim.

But since the arrival of the arrival of the virus in the world early in 2020, and the effects that it has had on so much of what we had taken for granted, there have been some changes to the way we operate that may not have happened without the lockdowns and the problems caused to so many.

Personally, having far more time for myself, with no commute to work, and no ability to be out and about as much, I have found the time to expand my knowledge and have spent much of the last year studying, and developing my knowledge of wine and wine regions.

2020 had started well for me, as I received the information that I had passed my WSET Level 3 Exam, taken in December 2019, by the end of January. What would I do next? Should I go down the road of the WSET Diploma, or was that not appropriate for me, given I don’t work in the industry directly, and also the cost of the Diploma is not something to be sniffed at?

Then, events took over, and on March 16th, the Social World came to an abrupt stop as we entered Lockdown 1 – We were home struck, with no escape for the next few months. What could I do to fill the time? Learning more about specific regions seemed a good idea, and I discovered the Rioja Wine Academy. They had introduced an on-line Rioja Wine Diploma, a self study introduction to the Wines of the DOCa Rioja, an area whose wines I had always liked over the years, and whats more, the course was gratis, so I signed up!

Lo and behold, the course was very enjoyable, it certainly expanded my knowledge of the Region, and I picked up quite a few wines to try, not that I needed too many excuses to drink wines from there.

After completing the studies, there is a little exam to take, and pleased to report, on April 13th, I passed, and they even reward you with a certificate. First Lockdown Stage Ticked off.

So, what next?

Anyone who has followed me, or knows me well, understands that I can struggle at tastings in distinguishing the various aromas and flavours that abound in wines. As my first teacher, Leslie Williams, explained, the best way to learn how to identify everything, was to drink more! While that sounds like a good idea, unfortunately, neither my liver, nor my wallet, would allow that to happen, so I would need to seek other ways to improve.

Years ago, I signed up for some academic on-line courses from Coursera, and while long behind me, I still received mails advertising new offerings from the organisation. One caught my eye, from the University of California, Davis, an institution I was aware provided degrees to many working in the Wine Industry in California and beyond. The Course was on Wine tasting, with Sensory Techniques for Wine Analysis – Why not, surely it would help.

Similar to the Rioja Course, the on-line modules developed skills, in this instance in how to identify flavours and aromas, with on-line lectures and peer review assessments, some of which I have written about previously.

I completed the course, with my peer reviewed assessment, in May, and found the course to be informative and entertaining, although the lack in interaction on the tasting experiments was not ideal.

I took a break over the summer months, not that there was vacation to be undertaken, seeing as we were still in lockdown. I took the opportunity to catch up on my reading, and enjoyed Kerin O’Keefe‘s wonderful book on Brunello di Montalcino, Oz Clarke‘s latest on English Wine, along with some great “airport” fiction from David Baldacci and John Grisham.

But come September and I was ready to jump back into “learning mode”, and after much consideration of which way to proceed, I decided that the Wine Scholar Guilds approach to specific countries, namely France, Spain and Italy, was preferable, compared to the WSET Diploma, which, while extremely informative and detailed, was aimed very heavily at professionals in the trade. While I may like to revisit this in the future, it is an expensive course, in both time and money, so it was off to WSG and a choice of where to start.

Over the past couple of years, I have started to explore the wines emanating from Italy, largely due to a trip to Rome and Tuscany in 2019, and visits to a number of vineyards on the trip. I also joined a Wine Club in Rome, Rimessa Roscioli, who supply me with two mixed cases a year from small producers, and opening my eyes, and taste buds, to grape varieties rarely seen in the export market here in Ireland. Although my first love had been Spanish Wines, I decided that Italy was the place to go, and as the WSG had just introduced a Foundation Course for their Italian Wine Scholar programme, I signed up for the first instalment.

The Course Book was supported by a series of weekly webinars, hosted by Andrea Eby, and after completing the study material, and revising over December, I took the on-line, fully proctored examination of 50 Multiple-Choice Questions on January 18th, feeling nervous at the strange environment, but put at ease by the Proctor on-line who talked me through the set up process. The exam was relatively straight forward, although, naturally, it was a nervy wait for the results, but lo and behold, I received the news that I had passed with honors (that’s how my letter from WSG spells “honours”, being a US based body), and another step in my learning project was completed.

As before, I had a decision to make as to where to go next. Having completed the Foundation Course for the WSG Italian Wine Scholar Course, logic dictated it was an easy choice this time. I have now signed up for Unit 1 of the two-part Scholar Programme, which commences with my first Webinar of a 10 week plan, on March 2nd. The course is split into two Units, given the complexity of the Italian World of Wine, and Northern Italy will be my first stop, starting with Piemonte and its plethora of DOCG’s, DOC’s, Sub-Zones and varieties of grapes. Wish me luck!

For us all, this past 12 months has been very difficult. The majority of us confined to our homes for large chunks of the year. Living, if not in fear of the Virus, certainly with concern for what might happen. Many will have seen at first hand the effects, and my thoughts go out to them. Thankfully my family have been spared to date, but we are not out of the woods yet, and although the light may finally be switched on, the there is still a length of the tunnel to travel before we can resume the things we took for granted.

But as I stated in the beginning, despite the problems faced, the opportunity to take on studies for my “hobby”, probably wouldn’t have been possible if things had continued at their normal pace. As a result I have taken steps to expand my knowledge of the subject, and will continue to move forward in the learning plan. I have no idea where this journey will eventually take me, but every step can only help me try to understand the fascinating World of Wine, so thank you Lockdowns, in a weird way, for giving me the opportunity – Every Cloud etc……..