Sauternes. Vouvray. Amarone. Would you be able to explainthe differences among these wines for an indecisive guest with an insatiablethirst or recommend the perfect food pairing to go with each for your owner?
In an industry of perfection, it takes absolute dedicationto attain the highest standards of service. With interior training achievingmore respect in recent years, the bar for dedication has been set even higherthan before — including expanding your wine knowledge.
It’s this kind of objective that led former Chief StewardessKaki Burgess, whose American boss had an extensive onboard cellar of hisfavorite California Cabernets and Tuscan Reds, to become trained in wine.
“As we were also an extremely busy charter boat withtwenty-four-hour turnarounds and with international clientele, I felt I neededto be able to order and discuss [wine] based on my knowledge of what I had onboard [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 seriousqualification since the Professional Yachting Association’s (PYA) GUEST programrecognized it as an accredited course.
“WSET is rigorous and can be very scientific and may be morethan what yachties want to learn during their vacation time, but I haven’t meta yachtie yet that doesn’t like to drink wine,” says Burgess. “Especially for[interior crew], we don’t usually get high-ranking certifications, so Iconsider 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 tostews’ resumes.
“Over the last seven years that I have been offering WSETtraining, I have seen a definite shift to accredited wine training becoming a‘must have’ on a CV rather than something quite nice and ‘fun,’” maintainsHelen Brotherton, president of Fine Wine Works, which offers WSET courses inVence, France, and Palma, Mallorca.
“We also know from captains and senior crew that itdefinitely plays a part in sorting through CVs and applicants for the job,” addsBrotherton. “Investing in your career by attending recognized training coursesgives the message that you are serious about this vocational profession.”
Burgess herself highly recommends WSET for those seriousabout taking their interior positions to the next level. The WSET comprisesfour levels of courses, depending on how serious of a wine connoisseur you wantto become. But how do you decide which course is the right one for you, or ifat all, for that matter?
Level 1 offers basic wine knowledge and an introduction intothe 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 moreof an overview and understanding of all wine, regions and pairing, saysCaroline O’Neil, sales and marketing manager at The Crew Academy, which offersWSET Level 2 and Level 3.
“In the PYA’s GUEST program, the three-day course is idealfor chief stews or those wishing to climb to that senior position and who willneed to manage wine purchases on behalf of guests in the future,” Brothertonadds.
One of the main reasons Burgess took the WSET route isbecause it’s known worldwide, so it would be able to translate no matter whatshe did or where she lived after yachting.
Those of a similar mindset should consider taking WSET Level3, the five-day, more academically challenging course that is ideal for thestew looking to transition on shore. According to O’Neil, WSET Level 3 not onlyhelps stews progress in their career, but also provides training they can usefor other jobs once leaving the industry, including hospitality, Michelin starrestaurants and sommelier.
Burgess is proof of this. “Having the WSET on my CVcontinues to help after I’ve left yachting now that I am helping my mom run afood company,” she says.
O’Neil also suggests taking WSET if your vessel’s ownersdrink a lot of wine and you want to remain up to speed on the latest, therebyallowing 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 talkabout wine,” Burgess maintains.
This will provide stews with what Brotherton calls the mainbenefit of wine training — the extra confidence when it comes to knowing thevalue 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 qualityservice.
With more than 600 APPs in more than 60 countries around theworld, WSET offers many options for crew to take the course no matter theirlocation, whether it’s through a wine school, a training center such as theCrew Academy or crew agency such as Riviera Yacht Support in Antibes.
Some places will even bring the service to you. Fine WineWorks, for example, offers onboard training and training in shipyards, perfectfor when you’re stuck on board or your yacht is going through refit. To find aprovider near you, visit WSET’s “Whereto 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 trickalong the way, just as Burgess did.
“[I] ask the bartender to bring me their favorite glass ofwine and [to not] tell me what it is, and I promise [the guests] that I cantell them what type of wine it is and from what region,” she shares. “Most ofthe 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 alot of drinking wine…just kidding, it’s WSET.”
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