How do I host a wine class?
March 29, 2006 7:24 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to know about setting up a wine class?

I am thinking about organizing a wine appreciation class, perhaps a series of classes, for students at a nearby professional school. The class would be a student activity-type thing, not for credit.

I know of at least one wine class that takes place at a nearby cookware store (I'm in Brooklyn Heights, NYC), and I will probably chat up the lecturer for that class to check on their availability and so forth, and how feasible it might be to send any interested parties over to that class. They limit it to 10 people per class, and I'm almost positive I can round up at least that many people from the school alone.

But before I get that far, I have a few questions:

What do I look for in a wine instructor? How do I know I'm getting someone who knows what they're talking about, and not just some schmuck that "knows wine." Are there credentials for this kind of thing?

Any drawbacks to hosting the class on our turf, as opposed to holding it at a location that usually hosts such classes? (I don't think permission from the school will be a problem.) What kind of stuff/supplies/equipment do we need to provide? Glasses? I imagine the instructor will bring the selection of wines? There are of course numerous wine classes around NYC, but it would be much more convenient for our students if it could take place here, not to mention I'm hoping I can weasel some kind of discount.

Is there a "right size" for these classes? Can they get too big?

Anything else?
posted by Brian James to Food & Drink (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In answer to your question - yes there is accreditation for sommeliers - check your better cooking schools. While you are there, you might want to inquire whether their teachers would be interested in teaching an event (or a series of events) for you.

If one is keen to learn, but not so keen on a 'formal structure' one can learn about wine simply by drinking many varieties of wine. Here's a fun, safe and inexpensive way to learn about wine - provided one keeps one's head (eg one spits and doesn't swallow, at least during the event) and provided that one keeps good notes.

We used to invite three or four other couples to our house, and ask that each couple bring two bottles of wine in paper bags.

There would be themes to these parties, eg one month we would do the Chardonnays, another month we would do Cabs, some months we would do specific regions, etc

We would blind-test each of the wines (write down a number onto each paper bag covering a bottle), and write down our thoughts and critique about each of the wines.

It was quite interesting how some plonk wines would gather excellent ratings, while some heavily-promoted and overpriced wines would sometimes not fare very well.

We had plenty of bread and coffee beans on hand, as we moved from one wine to the next. After the event, there was a lot of food, and the opened bottles could be tipped again (or, if they were not that good, not!)

This monthly meeting allowed me to assess for myself what I like and what I dislike about wines, and gave me a good base to keep honing my tastes. I still consult the little wine note book I had started back then.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:24 PM on March 29, 2006

Anything else?

Regarding curriculum -- consider "The Wine & Spirit Education Trust" program, as well as the "Windows of the World" program.
posted by ericb at 9:00 PM on March 29, 2006

We would blind-test each of the wines (write down a number onto each paper bag covering a bottle), and write down our thoughts and critique about each of the wines.

I'm following classes to become a sommelier at the moment, but I used to follow seawallrunner's method earlier. While it helps to taste a lot of wines at home, it's very difficult to really understand wine without some formal schooling that only a real wine teacher can provide.

A lot of things that an untrained palate will judge as "good" is actually wine maker's trickery (using a lot of oak to achieve mouthfill is one of the most prominent at the moment). It helps to have a teacher point out that what you're drinking is oak juice instead of fermented fruit juice.

A good teacher can also explain how the process of making wine can influence the end product, and let you taste examples. He will explain how to taste wine, and what technical errors a wine can have (tca or "corked taste", vinegar, oxydation). It's unlikely that you can discern these things with a group of unexperienced amateurs.

From my experience, groups larger than ten become very boring. There's a lot of time spent passing bottles around, and it gets very tedious.

Make sure everyone has a sink, or lacking that, a personal bucket to spit the wine. A sink is preferable, because a bucket will lead to a lot of wine fumes going around that may influence your nose as the evening progresses.

You probably won't find a decent tasting room with ten or twenty individual sinks outside a wine school, so I think that's preferable over hosting these events in your own school (unless your chemistry labs have this sort of rooms, maybe?). Wine institutes/schools usually have individual lights to judge the colour as well.

Try to get a teacher that lets you taste a maximum of wines (we usually do twelve per class, which keeps us busy for about four hours. Twice a week. You will have to spit the wine to survive that, sorry ;) ).
posted by NekulturnY at 6:47 AM on March 30, 2006

One more thing: avoid "classes" by wine stores. I know a lot of them host them, but they're usually more about selling their wines than teaching you about wine in general. Also, they're usually very expensive.

If you can't find a qualified sommelier teacher, try to find a local wine journalist/writer with a good reputation who has no commercial interests.
posted by NekulturnY at 6:58 AM on March 30, 2006

There are several certification programs that a professional can go through. As mentioned above, there is the program that leads to a "Master Sommelier" certification given by the Court of Master Sommeliers.

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) gives a similar certification called the Master of Wine (MW).

Roughly speaking, the Master Sommelier certification is for those who will work at dining establishments, while the MW is a little bit more for academics. Either is applicable to those working in the distribution channels, such as for a distributor or wine merchant.

Each of the above "Master" title is rare and the several hundreds of folks that have earned these will be way too expensive for what you are looking for. However, the programs take years, so someone working their way through the program is a great candidate as even the introductory levels to these programs offer tremendous knowledge and challenging exams.

And then, to complicate matters more, there is the Society of Wine Educators (SWE). SWE offers a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), then a Certified Wine Educator (CWE) along their path. They are adding a "Master" end goal in the future.

All of this said, my wife and I are just launching a wine school on the east end of Long Island called Grand Cru Classes. We're in NYC during the week and starting the school on weekends. We could possibly help you with your needs, or help direct you to someone who can if we discussed your goals fully.

As stated in the previous response, just tasting wine is important, so if you are interested in this, just make it happen. Even if you don't get a professional involved, you will benefit from the experience of tasting. And there is no better way to taste and take notes that in a group. When else can you justify opened 5-10 (or more) bottles of wine to compare? And the truth is that the only way to really compare is to, well, COMPARE - and that is hard to do over dinner with your partner and a single bottle of wine.

Jared Skolnick
Director, Grand Cru Classes
Jared (at) GrandCruClasses (dot) com
posted by GrandCru at 7:02 AM on March 30, 2006

NekulturnY thank you for the warning about wine classes in wine stores.

I am looking into wine tasting classes at our local duBrulle institute, indeed the 'home school' version has its limitations (but makes for a good party afterwards :)
posted by seawallrunner at 11:20 AM on March 30, 2006

Dr Vino is NY based, not affiliated with a wine store and may work out for you. I'm sure he can provide references.
posted by cushie at 4:00 PM on March 30, 2006

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