Simply preaching wine
A South African wine educator recently walked away with top international laurels. Her message is to enjoy wine with people who have no pretensions or preconceptions.
South Africans need to understand their competitors and their wines, otherwise they are never going to get the exposure and recognition the country deserves, says Wine and Spirit Education Trust Educator of the year winner, Cathy Marston. And she’s not a little bit proud of her new title, arguably the highest honour available in the world of wine education and highly coveted by more than 600 educators and programme providers worldwide.
“This is a shot in the arm for the country as a whole and certainly yet another way of making other countries sit up and take notice of us. But I do think it will be a bit optimistic to say it will change SA wine education.”
The award was given to Cathy for her contribution to promoting WSET within South Africa and for achieving excellent results. Ian Harris, Chief Executive of WSET, praised Cathy for her hard work and dedication introducing WSET to a new country where the qualifications were unknown. Her excellent use of social media to spread the WSET message and promote her courses was commented upon and mention was made of her efforts to spread WSET outside South Africa into the rest of the continent.
“It’s been a hard slog at times trying to explain the benefits of WSET and why people should choose a WSET course and what it can do for them and their career. I hope it will now be seen as the first and only choice when people are choosing their education path and that people will realise an internationally recognised qualification puts you in far closer touch with the rest of the world than any other.”
Cathy, who loves to teach, believes wine education has changed considerably over the past five years. “I can only really speak about WSET, but it has been an absolute pleasure (and a bit of a secret triumph) to see that the new level two material (published in August 2014) now contains more than double the amount of SA content than before. This is so important because these are the courses the rest of the world use as their basis for information and if we don’t figure there, it makes it much harder for us to figure in terms of awareness of our wines, sales opportunities etc. I’d like to think that my WSET students and I have perhaps contributed to this increase in some small way! And I can’t wait for the new Level 3 materials to come out, which should be later this year.
“We are absolutely on a par with our international counterparts in terms of the wines we make. In terms of awareness of international wines, wine styles and trends – perhaps not so much. It is very difficult to obtain international wines in this country and the weak rand really counts against us. But it’s important that we continue to try. We have to understand our competitors and their wines.”
In terms of changes to be made, Cathy says she wishes people would be prepared to spend more on wine and be more adventurous. “Even trying international wines from Woolworths and Checkers would be a start. South Africa’s days of isolation are over, we need to embrace the rest of the world and I know they will love us back in return.”
Although educating people about wine is such an integral part of her life, Cathy loves wine first. “I don’t think arguing over a wine’s merits is going to change the world! If we ever forget that wine is fun and that drinking it is a pleasure, then we are completely missing the point. So I always like to see, read and be with people who love and enjoy their wine with no pretensions or preconceptions.”
For Cathy the biggest challenge facing our wine industry with regard to education is confidence. “We need to give people confidence at grass roots and break down this absurd idea that wine is elitist. You don’t need to study forever, you don’t need to become uber-qualified and end up as an MW, but if you felt empowered and engaged enough to learn even a little bit about wine, you’d enjoy it so much more. I’d love people to feel that wine can be part of their lives.”
So how do we educate? Share, share, share, share, share. Share your wines with people – can there be a better thing to do with a bottle of wine? Share your experiences – good and bad. Share your enthusiasm – if you love it, why wouldn’t your friends love it too? Use social media – I learn so much from tweeted articles and shared Facebook links.
“And then share another bottle for good luck – wine is generosity, friendship, pleasure and life in a glass.”
Challenges facing SA wine industry?
Positioning our offering and lack of government support.
Strengths of SA wine industry?
Our wines. Seriously. We have nothing to be ashamed of and our best wines can hold their heads high in pretty much any international company anywhere in the world. Also, I’ve travelled a fair bit and I have seen nothing to match the beauty of the Western Cape anywhere, so we need to continue to promote wine tourism.
Biggest changes in the SA wine industry over the past 10 years?
The lack of international awareness and benchmarking. I can help with that!
What do you do when you are not busy with all things wine?
Read voraciously, eat far too much, look at my bike and think ‘mmm – I must go out on that sometime’ and open another bottle of wine.
People who can’t spell ‘palate’. Just kidding – unkindness.
Guilty pleasures in life?
Woolworths Prawn Cocktail crisps.
Best wine moment?
Drinking 20 year old Ridge Montebello, bought at the farm from Paul Draper himself and the first wine I drank after having a baby.