Dockwalk - The World of Wine Untitled Page

The World of Wine

Mar 17th 15
Hillary Hoffower


Sauternes. Vouvray. Amarone. Would you be able to explain the differences among these wines for an indecisive guest with an insatiable thirst or recommend the perfect food pairing to go with each for your owner? 


In an industry of perfection, it takes absolute dedication to attain the highest standards of service. With interior training achieving more respect in recent years, the bar for dedication has been set even higher than before — including expanding your wine knowledge.  


It’s this kind of objective that led former Chief Stewardess Kaki Burgess, whose American boss had an extensive onboard cellar of his favorite California Cabernets and Tuscan Reds, to become trained in wine. 


“As we were also an extremely busy charter boat with twenty-four-hour turnarounds and with international clientele, I felt I needed to be able to order and discuss [wine] based on my knowledge of what I had on board [and] based on what our chef might prepare for those guests,” she explains. 


Burgess decided to refine her taste buds with Wine & Spirit Education (WSET), which has become a more common and serious qualification since the Professional Yachting Association’s (PYA) GUEST program recognized it as an accredited course.  


“WSET is rigorous and can be very scientific and may be more than what yachties want to learn during their vacation time, but I haven’t met a yachtie yet that doesn’t like to drink wine,” says Burgess. “Especially for [interior crew], we don’t usually get high-ranking certifications, so I consider this to be one of them.” 


Burgess isn’t the only one who seems to feel this way. Although more than 40 years old, WSET is now adding some serious weight to stews’ resumes.  


“Over the last seven years that I have been offering WSET training, I have seen a definite shift to accredited wine training becoming a ‘must have’ on a CV rather than something quite nice and ‘fun,’” maintains Helen Brotherton, president of Fine Wine Works, which offers WSET courses in Vence, France, and Palma, Mallorca. 


“We also know from captains and senior crew that it definitely plays a part in sorting through CVs and applicants for the job,” adds Brotherton. “Investing in your career by attending recognized training courses gives the message that you are serious about this vocational profession.” 


Burgess herself highly recommends WSET for those serious about taking their interior positions to the next level. The WSET comprises four levels of courses, depending on how serious of a wine connoisseur you want to become. But how do you decide which course is the right one for you, or if at all, for that matter?  


Level 1 offers basic wine knowledge and an introduction into the world of wine for both beginners and those who want a refresher. Level 2, which does not require a prerequisite, is a three-day course that provides more of an overview and understanding of all wine, regions and pairing, says Caroline O’Neil, sales and marketing manager at The Crew Academy, which offers WSET Level 2 and Level 3.  


“In the PYA’s GUEST program, the three-day course is ideal for chief stews or those wishing to climb to that senior position and who will need to manage wine purchases on behalf of guests in the future,” Brotherton adds. 


One of the main reasons Burgess took the WSET route is because it’s known worldwide, so it would be able to translate no matter what she did or where she lived after yachting.  


Those of a similar mindset should consider taking WSET Level 3, the five-day, more academically challenging course that is ideal for the stew looking to transition on shore. According to O’Neil, WSET Level 3 not only helps stews progress in their career, but also provides training they can use for other jobs once leaving the industry, including hospitality, Michelin star restaurants and sommelier. 


Burgess is proof of this. “Having the WSET on my CV continues to help after I’ve left yachting now that I am helping my mom run a food company,” she says. 


O’Neil also suggests taking WSET if your vessel’s owners drink a lot of wine and you want to remain up to speed on the latest, thereby allowing you to discuss various wines together.  


“When I started in yachting, there was no Internet on board, so to Google which wine went with veal we really did have to know our ‘stuff’ back then, but what WSET taught me was how to properly smell and taste and talk about wine,” Burgess maintains. 


This will provide stews with what Brotherton calls the main benefit of wine training — the extra confidence when it comes to knowing the value of the product and dealing with all and any aspect of wine purchasing, storing and service. 


And a boost of confidence helps you deliver higher quality service. 


With more than 600 APPs in more than 60 countries around the world, WSET offers many options for crew to take the course no matter their location, whether it’s through a wine school, a training center such as the Crew Academy or crew agency such as Riviera Yacht Support in Antibes. 


Some places will even bring the service to you. Fine Wine Works, for example, offers onboard training and training in shipyards, perfect for when you’re stuck on board or your yacht is going through refit. To find a provider near you, visit WSET’s “Where to Study” page and search by region.  


Whether you want to taste the world of wine is up to you, but it may well be worth the investment. You may even pick up a new party trick along the way, just as Burgess did.  


“[I] ask the bartender to bring me their favorite glass of wine and [to not] tell me what it is, and I promise [the guests] that I can tell them what type of wine it is and from what region,” she shares. “Most of the time, I can do it just by sight and smell without even a taste.”  


She jokingly adds, “I’m not sure if that’s WSET or just a lot of drinking wine…just kidding, it’s WSET.” 


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