I get this question fairly regularly. There is a lot of interest in becoming a teacher, especially with WSET, and people simply want to know how I got to where I am in the wine and drinks industry and how I came to run NEWA. Since i took the opportunity to write an extended email response to a potential student this past week, plus I found myself telling the story several times on top of that, I thought I would simply share the story for anyone interested. Below is simply a slightly edited version of the email I sent out last week explaining a bit about myself and my WSET / teacher journey. Please let me know if you have any question.
L3Sp is in my opinion the hardest and most content-heavy course in WSET world. The exam is not like the L3W exam, in that the quality assessment in tasting is a written justification for the assessment, not simply a statement as it is in L3W. There are also a significant number of options in the spirits world with still types, many raw materials, and other applications, including all the Asian spirits, that add to the level of knowledge. You will learn a lot, but its a great course - especially if you are industry.
My personal journey with the drinks industry and WSET began a long time ago. I was bartending and working in restaurants after college and had my first bar manager job in 1993, had to run the wine list so that's where I really started to learn about wine. I also worked in a retail shop for a bit and then in 1995 went to work for a fine wine wholesaler - and stayed there until 2011.
I started taking courses and teaching wine classes in the early 2000s, I guess. First with SWE and then really with WSET. I finished my Diploma in 2011. This was all really before or just early on with the internet and wide-open access to information. Everything was paper-based and book studies. I intended to start an APP at some point but in 2011 I changed jobs to my current position (I work for a restaurant group as the corporate beverage director - we have 12 locations) and with kids and work and life my studies and progress took a little back seat.
In 2017, I was accepted to the MW year 1 program and spent the next year studying for that exam, scheduled for June 2018. The little situation that occurred was that my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in May of 2018, about 1 month before my exam, and went into the hospital about 2 weeks before my exam - not the best set-up for taking a huge exam. I went to San Fran and took the exam. Results came back in mid-July, and I had passed theory but missed on tasting. I had to make a decision to continue and redo year 1 by Aug 1, 2018, but my mother had a very difficult summer and by the beginning of August, we were ready for Hospice. It was too much up in the air as to what would happen and just decided that I would not repeat it at that point. But, I am happy to say that my mother is still alive (last last-minute younger doctor stepped in and suggested immunotherapy as a treatment and it literally took only a few weeks to go from making funeral arrangements to the cancer retreating). By October she was definitely doing well, and I decided to change course a bit.
Instead of spending loads of hours studying and more importantly loads of money (I think MW year 1 cost me 500+ hours of study and in the area of about $7-8000), I would use my qualifications to make some money. I chose two tracts: the first was to get the WSET APP done, and the second was Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced (I did Certified a year or two before and liked it, plus I work in restaurants and it seemed to fit better).
In December 2018, the WSET APP / ETP was offered in Hartford, right where I live, so I took a week off and knocked that out nice and cheap with no travel and no hotels. This gave me the ability to go through the process of opening an APP - much paper-work still to come though - and also got me the Certified level for Wine. The same week, I applied for and passed the entry to CMS Advanced course which I attended in Dallas in the spring of 2019. Simultaneously I created the LLC and opened the NEWA APP with a corporate client as my first student group.
I was originally supposed to take the Advanced exam in Oct 2019, but punted as I did not feel prepared, and moved it to March of 2020. Well, some things happened in Mar of 2020 and that never happened. But, in the Spring of 2020, WSET, which had already been beta testing an online delivery option for most courses, fast-tracked the program and intro'd it right in time for Covid delivery - we were off to the races during Covid and had many students working via remote option.
I went back in the winter of 2021 (Queens, NY, this time) and took the ETP for Spirits L2 (L3 was not offered quite yet), and added L1 and L2 Spirits to my offerings for courses.
Working through the Covid period, I eventually got my Court Advanced exam in Oct 2021 in St Louis and passed on the first attempt. One of only 3 Advanced in the State of CT.
As a study aid during my run to the Advanced exam, I took and passed WSET Sake 1 and Spirits 3, simultaneously, passing both. In November 2021, I had to take the Spirits 3 ETP (Educator Training Program) as a top-up in order to offer L3Sp in my APP. So here we are a few years later and I offer all wine, all spirits, and no longer offer Sake (no one takes that class), and am working on the new Beer qualification.
The difference between the Certified Educator and a Registered Educator is that a Certified can offer classes in their APP and have Registered Educators teach under them. Certified still has to be in an APP but they can be their own APP, like me. So if you want to run classes in your part of New York, we can create a partnership and you get registered as an educator and run it under NEWA. That would save you the $6000 needed to become an APP, and relieve you of all of the administrative hassles in running an APP. You can also run remote classes with an APP, and therefore have a broader audience. (I am actually serious on this front - I have a former student who is teaching L1Sp classes, and she is Registered in order to do so.)
So there you go- my life in an email.
It's expensive to become an APP. They do not offer training sessions that often so it's difficult to get it coordinated, sometimes. And you have to hustle to make some money at it. I still run this as a side-gig because my market is kind of small, I work a full-time job, and I primarily offer online courses. But, I am one of a handful that does offer L3Sp, so I have a lot of business from that. I also have strong relationships in the industry and when I do in-person sessions, it's almost always for distributor groups. I have several national teams working on it right now.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With 30 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.