Last Sunday I touched down at London Heathrow with my life changed forever. The previous Friday I had successfully retaken my Vinitaly International Academy exam and could now call myself an Italian Wine Ambassador. Not only that, but I’d secured my dream job…in Italy. Leaving in four weeks.
So far I’ve booked a one way flight and we’ve begun trying to drink our way through the wine stocks (because as my husband rightly pointed out, once you’ve shipped it in from Italy it seems silly to ship it back). Apart from that I’m mostly running in circles and cuddling the cats and hoping that at some point I figure out what the hell I need to do next.
Hopefully this little corner of the interwebz will be where you can join me on the whirlwind adventure I’m about to embark upon.
I had a salad for lunch today. It’s summer, I’m trying to eat lighter meals to counteract the carb-fest of revision. Plus I really like wine (this much I hope is obvious by now) and so I can’t cut calories that way because we all know it’s never going to happen. Oh, and I really like salad. I like vegetables and leaves and all the accoutrements that come with.
The problem is, I ate my salad and then an hour later I needed another one as a snack, and now it’s an hour later than that and I can feel a rumble coming on. It doesn’t matter how many grains I add, or what protein makes it in, I eat a salad and moments later I need more food. Is it psychological? Or is it in fact a massive conspiracy by leafy vegetables to ensure that you eat more of them but are never sated?
Whichever it is, excuse me whilst I pop to the shops for an ice cream, and contemplate whether Toby’s right.
Last Wednesday at 4.40pm I put down my pen and sealed my WSET Diploma theory papers in their envelope, handed them in for marking and with around 300 other people left the room where I’d spent five hours being examined on my wine knowledge.
It’s hard to articulate what my feeling was stepping out of that room. Whilst it was certainly better than the sick butterflies I had at 9.40 when I entered, armed with 12 glasses and no idea what wines I might face, it wasn’t quite the rush of elation I’d expected. As some might say “it’s complicated.” Fortunately the need to analyse all this was quickly dismissed by a cold beer, followed by a cold glass of wine and then an early flight to France for three days in the Alps for fresh air and escape.
But now here I am, the first day at home in almost two years when I haven’t had to think about what I should be studying, what regions are my weak points, whether I have an Alsace Gewurztraminer suitable for tasting in the wine rack.
Result’s aren’t due until September and so the summer stretches out ahead of me with days off that can literally be just that. It’s a huge relief, but at the same time, I can’t help wondering…what’s next?
I’m lying awake in the middle of the night having woken myself up (again) worrying about how I’m going to tackle everything I know about Bordeaux – and more significantly everything I don’t – in one day. According to my schedule that’s what I had. 8-10 hours to hit the books and come out knowing enough to answer any question the diploma awards team decided to throw at me. From soils and aspects, to chateaux and classifications, to markets and export figures.
In addition to all that, I somehow needed to read about another 5-8 Italian grape varieties to keep on track for the VIA work. I could write up the notes another time, but with two weeks until we fly and 41 grape varieties to go I couldn’t pause to rest on my Bordeaux sloshing laurels.
I somehow made it off to sleep in the early hours, my brain still whirring on the logistics of it all.
Then I stirred to bright sunshine, a cat poking his nose in my face for attention and an epiphany. I was the one setting the schedule. No one else was telling me that France had to be the first region I had to focus on. Yes, the deadlines were fixed, but how I approached them was only set by myself in a somewhat arbitrary manner one afternoon at work. Why on earth would I try and look at the biggest and potentially most complex subjects (in my mind Bordeaux and Burgundy are much harder on the brain than Italy) in the same two weeks that I needed to finalise my VIA revision?
I got up, poured myself a vat of coffee, took out my pencil and decided to try again. I may fail again, but it was a sharp reminder that I am my own worst enemy in these situations. I get caught up thinking I have to do something, when I’m the only one setting the rules, and I can break them anytime I want.
My taught classes for the WSET diploma are rapidly coming to an end. At 5.30pm on Wednesday March 7th I will be released into the world of private study and left to fend for myself until the finals on June 13th.
I’m not going to lie, I am somewhat dreading that moment. That point when I will no longer be guided through the intricacies of alcohol and tannin levels in wine, or the soil types in the various appellation of France, or the impact of ocean currents in South America. That sudden realisation that you’ve got three months to somehow focus your learning and then, er… learn it all!
However, I’m not alone. During the first semester last year an amazing thing happened. A group of people all from different backgrounds, some not even in the industry, became a wine support network for each other. We got together for tastings, shared the cost and calibrated our palates and it somehow got me through a fortified wine exam.
But in many ways it’s not the shared tastings that matter most. It’s having a set of people who don’t mind a crazy WhatsApp message asking a random question about Cava innovations, or if they have the recent export figures for the Asti DOCG or frankly just want to have a rant about marking schemes. People who update you on their word count and remind you about cover sheets three hours before hand in deadlines.
They encourage you to buy the weird Slovenian white blend just because you want to taste it and will travel for hours to have boozy lunches and then shake their heads at you when you confess you can only “taste” as you’ve booked a yoga workshop that evening (but accept it nonetheless).
Now I don’t know if I’m going to pass my finals, but I do know that this wonderful, amazing and utterly mad group of people will help get me there as best they can, and I’ll be there doing it for them. I couldn’t have made it through these two years without their support.
So if you’re doing the diploma, considering the diploma or in fact anything equally intense, let down your guard and find those people in the room who are generous with their time, knowledge and fun, they’ll be the best support you can have along the way.
A trait that my husband and I share is our approach to achieving the “big things”. Our strategy has always been to break it down into the smallest steps. Each foot forward is therefore attainable, gives a morale boost, and inches you closer to the amazing thing you want. At least that’s the theory anyway.
More than once I’ve also used this strategy to cope with the WSET diploma. How on earth do you get all that information covered? You break it down into the tiniest pieces and tick them off one at a time. I go as far as literally listing the day I will do things, because if I write it down I’m held accountable and fearcrastination can’t take over (no really, it’s a thing, I checked with my wine wife).
It’s such an ingrained response to things that I couldn’t help but find myself counting pages of Native Wine Grapes of Italy the other night in bed. Six weeks until I need to be ready for the VIA trip, 598 pages of the book to cover, that’s 100 pages a week, 20 pages a night if you assume I have five days a week I can commit to evening reading. That feels entirely achievable. Until I read this sentence:
At the end of last year I did something rather whimsical. Or at least I thought it was.
I’ve had my eye on the Vinitaly International Academy certification course. It’s basically the most intensive, complex and thus prestigious course you can take if you want to specialise in Italian wines. It’s five days of lectures and tasting that culminates in an exam which if you pass allows you to call yourself an Italian Wine Ambassador. Ever since I first heard about it I’ve wanted to apply, but I missed the deadline last year by a few weeks and having just started my diploma figured I’d dodged a bullet.
During the Christmas break I discovered that applications were being accepted again and I thought “why not?!” Then I realised they only take around 50 candidates a year. Which actually made me feel better. I could apply, with no pressure as there’s no way I’d be selected, get feedback on my application ahead of next year and not have to worry about adding another really serious pressure to my WSET diploma and full-time job filled life. So on December 27th whilst my husband was washing up, I put together my application, sent it off, and then for a month I sort of forgot about it. I mean, not really, I still manically refreshed my email, but in the “waiting for confirmation of my rejection” sort of way.
Then on Monday January 30th I received the email. Congratulating me on my acceptance to the course. Ah….
This means that in April I’m flying to Verona to learn about 134 key grape varieties in Italy. Two months before my diploma finals. What could possibly go wrong? I’m hoping that you’ll join me in this space along the way to find out.
A cocktail before bed.
Because it’s Wednesday and my husband worked from home and we had a long evening together playing board games and enjoying each other’s company.
Because celebrating the little things, like being able to start our evening at 6pm not eight thirty, is one of my favourite things about how we do things.
And, because tomorrow I have another four hours of revision to tackle and I’m in denial!
So on Saturday morning I made quite the impression on my work colleagues. I fell hook, line and sinker for the traditional company April fool, and advertised the fact with an email to the entire team. Worse? I didn’t even realise until a customer pointed out the joke to me whilst a manager looked on snickering.
Me: 0 – April: 1
Half an hour later I mis-read the rota and almost caused chaos trying to move staff members around when I didn’t need to. Fortunately I caught myself just before the snafu was made completely public…..only one of the directors and the same manager mocking me this time.
Me: 0 – April: 2
Then, the crowning moment; tasting through a new potential range of wines I gestured mid-swirl and threw the entire contents of the glass on the floor narrowly missing the others.
Me: 0 – April: 3.
After today I have a few days off. I’m going to hide at home, avoid sharp objects and hope I can get through the rest of the week unscathed. How’s your April started? Please tell me others fell for the Fools and I’m not alone!
I did something this week that I never expected to.
I bought a yoga mat.
Yup, I purchased a six foot long strip of foam in order to find my zen. Well, okay, not quite. I bought it because part of trying to fix my back is about strengthening other bits of me, and this means all sorts of stretching, bending, holding, twisting and other such exercises many of which are based on pilates moves. In order to do this I’ve been lying on the floor slipping round on an old crochet blanket that actually belongs to the cats (don’t worry, they find the amusement of watching me attempt the moves total compensation for the loss of the blanket). However, as the exercises are becoming more complicated it was clear that something more serious was in order.
So a yoga mat it is. I have to admit it’s rather impressive. A dark shade of royal blue, it rolls out and stays flat, is squishy but not too soft and even has a carrying strap – Ha! Like I’d ever take it out of the house, no one needs to endure me doing this in public.
However, despite it’s admirable qualities it doesn’t seem to have done anything to improve my abilities, and whilst I’ll admit the work is doing wonders for my back, everything else now hurts instead.
Is it possible my osteopath is trying to kill me? Please tell me it gets easier eventually?! Right now I’m finding it very hard to believe people do this sort of thing to gain any degree of zen, it feels more like bootcamp.
It totally justifies the extra glass of wine in the bath though right?