Teaching Styles in Wine Education – So What?

While all wine educators share a common goal, to convey information and assist in the learning process, each does so with a unique style. Wine education is of course no different. In over 20 years of sitting through both fascinating seminars and deathly boring lectures, I finally found my own style after attending the first-year Master of Wine residential seminar a few years ago. So What?

Many wine educators might as well be the guest reader at a library as all they do is regurgitate, or worse read, the information out loud that students have access to on their own. Some skip over that information completely and fill in with nothing but esoteric factoids that may win you a bar bet, but do not improve your useful wine acumen. Some try to add gimmicky “flair” singing or dancing through the information (I swear, I have suffered through it!) as though that is going to help valuable information sink in. Then there is the comedian, who is more interested in polishing their stand-up routine than providing paying students with useful information. Finally and perhaps the most painful the educator who is not themselves educated, and is not at all confident with the materials and becomes combative when challenged by knowledgeable students who politely correct misinformation. So What?

I am fortunate to be part of a team that suffers none of these afflictions. The San Francisco Wine School instructor team is highly knowledgeable, articulate, appropriately humorous, and full of interesting stories, anecdotes and experience in the regions or wines being discussed. David Glancy, MS is a prolific and touted educator who has successfully prepared over 400 students for the Certified Sommelier exam. Catherine Fallis, MS is both high energy and entertaining, but is also an encyclopedia of facts and detail. Zach pace approaches each subject methodically and with a charm that leaves many students starry-eyed, while simultaneously filling their brains with relevant and current information. And Fred Swan is a true California wine expert with knowledge of history, players and details of areas that could make a Mondavi blush. So What?

So, what is my style? My style is “So What?” I learned a few years ago that having the ability to recall facts and figures can be useful, but if I cannot answer the “so what” about any topic or subject I am studying much less teaching, I do not own the information. If I cannot use the information in such a way that it is germane to other areas, then it is simply recall, not knowledge. Example: According to Live-ex Index, Lafite prices dropped 24% in Q4, 2011. So What? So the market is correcting and it is time to reexamine valuations. Perhaps this could also mean the Asian wine markets have filled their checks lists and are slowing down on buying, perhaps the Bordelaise have finally priced themselves out of the market, or perhaps we are in the beginning of a Burgundy surge. It could be a combination of these things, but if I never asked so what, the simple fact from live-ex is just that: a fact. Without the “So What”, it is meaningless trivia.

So What? Well, if you have taken any of my classes you have heard me ask this over and over. And if you haven’t taken any of my classes, get ready to hear it and be ready to answer! It is our goal at San Francisco Wine School, to not only have students memorize appropriate information, but to truly understand the materials and own the knowledge, so that they can go out and be better at whatever they may do with that knowledge. Even if it is only to go home, kick their feet up with a bottle of something delicious and consider all the “so what’s” that went into getting that wine in their glass. What are your thoughts? Are there teaching styles that have and have not worked for you as either a teacher or student?

Join one of our Wine Education Programs which are perfect for sommeliers and other industry professionals and enthusiasts in search of world-class wine education..

Check out our full schedule of programs, workshops and public events. Private, customized experiences and corporate training is also available.

Reading next