W.S.E.T. wine education triples in South Africa

Friday, 6 December, 2013
Cathy Marston
Two years after the internationally-recognised Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) wine courses were introduced into South Africa, Approved Programme Provider Cathy Marston looks back on some of the highlights and growth in the past twelve months.

The International Wine Education Centre (IWEC), which offers the only internationally-recognised wine courses available in Southern Africa, reflects back on a second successful year of Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses on the continent and beyond.

2012 was the IWEC’s first year of offering WSET courses and it was truly heartening to see the enthusiasm and support both from within the industry and amongst the drinking public at large. The presence of WSET International Development Director Jude Mullins at Cape Wine 2012 along with a large contingent of UK wine educators, the vast majority of whom teach WSET, seems to have opened the eyes of many people within the SA wine and hospitality industry to the enormous benefits of a WSET qualification. Consequently, the uptake and interest in 2013 has been a vast improvement on 2012 in terms of numbers and successes.

Numbers – local and international

In 2012, the IWEC taught 73 people; this year, the numbers increased to 249, a rise of 241%, spread over both wine courses and the new stand-alone spirit courses. Of course, the percentage improvement does come off a very low base in the first year, but these figures reflect the current increase and interest in wine education worldwide - in the last academic year alone, WSET taught more than 48,500 students in 62 different countries.

Wine courses are not just for the wine industry!

It is also interesting to note that more non-drinks industry people are signing up for courses, particularly Level 2. One of the latest Level 2 courses in SA was 50/50 industry and non-industry folk, and the first course run in Namibia was actually 70% non-industry students. It helps that you can start WSET at whichever level suits you and your knowledge of wines, so there is no need to start with Level 1 if you already know something about wine. Remember – WSET-graduate Jancis Robinson was also from outside the wine trade when she passed her MW exams in 1984!

Diploma and Stand-alone Spirits courses.

New for 2014 will be the WSET flagship qualification, the Diploma. This highly-professional course has been successfully completed by fewer than 5,000 people worldwide and is held by many of the lecturers used here in SA. It will be run as a Distance learning programme from the UK and will begin in May 2014. For more details, please go to www.wsetschool.com.

After successful Level 1 courses run for Ultra Liquors staff and a momentous Level 2 course (which saw Dave Hughes finally teach WSET after waiting 40 years to do so!), the IWEC launched stand-alone Spirits qualifications this year. This is one of the most exciting and growing areas of the drinks industry at the moment and more of these are planned for 2014. Many thanks to Ultra Liquors and Distell for their generous support of these courses and we look forward to working with them again next year.

The IWEC and WSET abroad

The IWEC returned to the Four Seasons Anahita Resort on Mauritius to train a further group of their wait staff on WSET Level 2 and take their sommeliers through an intensive Level 3 course at the same time. The first WSET courses in Namibia were held in Windhoek in October and the students achieved an outstanding 100% pass rate on both Level 1 & 2. Plans for 2014 also include pilot courses in Tanzania and Kenya.


WSET concentrates on wine knowledge and doesn’t cover the high levels of service demanded by the Court of Master Sommeliers, but because WSET is the only internationally-recognised wine qualification available in Africa, many sommeliers choose to study it before going to the ‘Court’.

The IWEC has trained sommeliers, managers and staff from many of the country’s top restaurants, resorts and hotels, and at present, 6 out of the top 7 of Eat Out’s Top Ten Restaurants employ WSET-trained staff.

Establishments who have chosen WSET for their staff training include The Test Kitchen, Five Hundred at The Saxon Hotel, Rust en Vrede, The Greenhouse at the Cellars-Hohenort, Jardine at Jordan, Overture, DW11-13, Brasserie de Paris, Aubergine, Terroir, The Pot Luck Club, La Colombe, The Maslow Hotel, Singita, Four Seasons Mauritius, Majeka House, One & Only Cape Town, The Table Bay Hotel and the Vineyard Hotel.

Many thanks to the SA Sommeliers Association which has been very helpful in putting the IWEC in contact with lots of its members – your support is much appreciated.

Supportive wineries and businesses – thank you!

The Jordan Women in Wine initiative was launched last year by Kathy and Gary Jordan aimed at encouraging more women from previously-disadvantaged communities to gain skills and find sales and marketing opportunities within the wine industry. Their first scholarship winner has already successfully completed WSET Level 1 and will take Level 2 next year, but the spin-off effect of the scholarship has already reached further than the Jordans expected. After they supported another candidate through Level 1, she persuaded her employers to continue to invest in her career and is currently awaiting the results of level 2, whilst another candidate from The Table Bay Hotel was the catalyst for the IWEC training the entire team of waitering staff and managers prior to the opening of their new brasserie.

“What if I educate my staff and then they leave?”

“What if you DON’T educate them and they stay?” According to Ian Harris, CEO of WSET, at the recent Wine Vision conference, figures show an increase in profitability of between 6-11% for wine businesses which invest in staff education. In SA, wineries such as Warwick Wine Estate, Creation Wines, Hartenberg, Groot Constantia, Rust en Vrede, Noble Hill, Gabrielskloof along with Ultra Liquors have all put several members of their staff through WSET and many more wineries have paid for individual courses as well. We look forward to seeing you all reap the benefits of your investment in 2014 and beyond. We would also like to thank the wineries and businesses which have given us a ‘home’ to teach in last year, which includes many of those mentioned above as well as Glen Carlou and Backsberg.

Thanks to our lecturers.

The IWEC has been lucky enough to secure some of SA’s best-qualified and knowledgeable lecturers over the past two years, many of whom gave their services for nothing but the sheer love of wine education when the IWEC was in its early days. We are very grateful to them all and look forward to working with them again in 2014 – thanks to Cathy van Zyl MW, Richard Kershaw MW, Winnie Bowman CWM, WSET Diploma graduates Ingrid Motteux, Nicola Tipping, Lise Ewins, Elizma Myburgh, Carrie Adams, sommeliers Jorg Pfutzner, Kimi Blackadder, David Clarke, Xolani Mancotywa, spirits experts Roger Jorgensen, Dave Hughes and also Francois Haasbroek, Jonathan Snashall, Georgie Prout and in particular, Suné Eksteen, all of whom have been unstinting in their support.

And a final thank you to all IWEC students who’ve worked really hard, many of them combining studies with their day (and night jobs) and all of whom have become wonderful ambassadors for WSET and wine. We hope your achievements bring you all the success you hope for and deserve, and look forward to continuing to share your journey into wine knowledge in 2014.

The WSET wine and spirit course schedule for 2014 can be found on www.thewinecentre.co.za