Peace out WSET

You know things aren’t right when your nightly recurring dream is suitcase Tetris. It goes a little something like this, you have 15 minutes to check out of your hotel, and everything you’ve ever owned needs to be squeezed into a cabin-sized suitcase. That’s stress, baby.

Part of me wondered if I needed to quit my job, buy a canoe, and fake my death. The tiny, more disciplined side of myself said I should do some soul searching for the source of my unhappiness and listen to it. I tuned in:

“It’s the diploma, you aren’t enjoying it, you hate doing the exams, and you very much dislike dragging your hangry self to class every Wednesday.” – me to me.

Oh. Ok then.

So is this post about what’s wrong with WSET or what’s wrong with me? Honestly, we’re looking at a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B, but mostly the latter because hundreds of people complete the diploma without having a blog post-sized meltdown.

Back in the early 2000s, I found university a real struggle. (Didn’t we all). Skinny and stressed. I hung on to complete my degree. I hung on to bad relationships and poor friendships; I hung on to jobs and side hustles that made me want to stick a spoon in my eye. I hung on, determined to make them all work. Since then, I’ve been exuberantly quitting people and things. Formal studying at the diploma level made me lose the joy of wine, and I forgot why I started in the first place.

So that’s what’s up with me, what’s up with WSET?

Quite a bit. I rewrote this post at least five times, and to quote David Sedaris, “writing is rewriting”.

I decided being negative about the school was pointless. They didn’t do me wrong; they just didn’t do me right. I know you’re reading this for the tea, so I’ll finish with this thought:

WSET and the diploma especially want to make wine into a science. Unless you are titrating tannins in a lab, it’s near impossible to pin them down in a meaningful way as a living, breathing, flawed human. We should save the science part to the winemakers and let us, the consumers taste with our imagination.

Suppose you tell me that the tannins are medium minus, chalky and coarse. How tedious. Now suppose you tell me they taste like a hard day at work, a dusty rush-hour ride on the Northern Line, and a lick of peeling wallpaper; I’m right there with you, so let us raise a glass to “finding the joy”.

Daphne xo


  1. Jam de clare

    Omg it’s so lovely to see you say this. I quit the advanced course over a year ago when the whole class would degenerate into a row while tasting about whether something was a medium minus or a quite highly acidic but not highly acidic wine. I love my wine and learning about it but things I remember more are when my friend tells me a fined Malbec tastes of metallic bin lids or when Riesling reminds him of balloons…

  2. Alex

    Sigh. I agree. I keep reminding myself that wset is nothing else than a line in my resume. A very expensive and soul-consuming line.

  3. Tony Aspler

    Right on Daphne.. Bring back the joy!

  4. Mark Binden

    Well said. Enjoy the freedom. If it is meant to be, you can always go back to it.

  5. Abel

    I feel that most of these wine certification programs unknowingly intellectualize the passion that brought me to wine. I’m sure it not intentional but it happens. Having a love for wine (or love for anything) does not have an end goal, these programs do. Most of the people I have met and inspired me to chase wine were not “credentialed” but they have forgotten more about wine then I have learned. Their passion for wine is what inspires others. Drink wine is my joy! ( Full disclosure- I received my WSET 3 in 2015)

  6. Dinah

    Just the D3 to go, and I’m done with it all. I say ‘just’. Everyone knows it’s the hardest part, and at 50% of the overall mark, there is no winging it. Covid robbed me of the chance to sit it last month and I have deferred for a year. I have too many other things to be getting on with – things that have been on the back burner since I started this crazy course. Will I go back to it in a year’s time? Yes, but only because I have paid for the exam. It’s hideous. I sometimes question whether I even enjoy wine any more.

  7. Helen

    Mmmm – usefulness vs business? Interesting question for wine course providers to think about. Hands on versus theory?


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