I see that an interview I gave on the phone recently has been published in Harpers and I thought it would be better to add a few comments before I might upset any friends in the trade or blogging world.
I was asked, by Gemma McKenna at Harpers in the UK, whether I thought that bloggers “needed the WSET qualification”. The trade in general is very positive about it, understandably, and so most of the others she spoke to were fairly uniformly welcoming. It makes my dissent stand out all the more.
This is how I was quoted (full article is linked above):
What about the blogging community? Do they need formal qualifications?
Robert McIntosh, who runs wineconversation.com and is one of the founders of the European Wine Bloggers Conference, thinks not. “It’s a question that’s being continually asked and no one can agree,” he says. “I don’t think bloggers should have a qualification. The wine trade is really small, but so standardised when it comes to wine communication. One thing that puts consumers off is descriptions of wine that don’t mean anything to them – the average tasting note doesn’t help them understand.
“I personally never finished my WSET Diploma, but I don’t think that’s made a big difference to my life, other than missing out on contacts.
“The WSET tells you there is no right tasting note for a wine, but when you’re examined on a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, if you don’t tick the box “gooseberry” and instead write “it’s like being slapped in the face with a bunch of grass”, you won’t get the marks.
“I’m not trying to do down the WSET, I’d definitely recommend it to people. But if a blogger asks me if they need to do it before they start blogging I’d say no, do it your own way first. If they want to get into some more technical stuff later, then by all means.”
Consumers are telling us all the time that they don’t “get” wine writing, particularly professional tasting notes. What we need to find are new ways to engage consumers and make wine relevant to them. However, if we ALL take the SAME qualifications, we all use the same basis for reviewing wines, we create a uniformity of thinking that hampers our search for something new.
I think that much of what the WSET does, to standardise a general knowledge about the wines of the world and also bring a commercial element to wine learning that makes the trade more “professional”, is positive. It is useful to have a benchmark set for wine knowledge, especially if someone wants to work in the wine “business”.
But the question was, “do bloggers need the WSET”?. This is about wine communication, not wine knowledge.
Bloggers might ALSO be wine buyers, wine sales people and wine marketers. If in those roles they need wine qualifications, then that is a different point. But they could also be lawyers, computer programmers, retired pilots, teachers and much, much more.
I am concerned about their role as ‘people who express their opinions, experiences and knowledge via the means of a blog’. Passionate wine lovers who take the time to share that with others via a blog will generally also try and learn more about the wines, regions and people behind them, but do they all need to study the same curriculum?
I feel very strongly that the world of wine communication would be a poorer place if anyone who wanted to express their opinions about wine had to take a qualification, never mind the same one. If we really want creativity we need to welcome and support alternative points of view, and different ways to express that experience.
Of course, you are entitled to a different point of view.