So I Finished WSET4 Diploma. Now What’s Up Next?
I did not come into wine from a wine family or with an extensive technical or business background. My amazing Mum – now retired – was a primary school teacher, and my Dad – who unfortunately passed away just over ten years ago – was an electrical engineer. I myself studied languages and literature (English & German), and wholeheartedly so. Growing up, wine was only served sporadically in our household, and until my early thirties I knew very little about it.
Yet last October I got the confirmation I passed the WSET Diploma with an overall Distinction grade, and two weeks ago, I had the honour to receive two international wine awards during the WSET graduation ceremony in London:
the IWSC International Wine and Spirit Competition trophy, for the highest overall score in the Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) region;
the Peter Hampson Memorial prize, for the highest score in the D1 unit (wine production) in the EMEA.
Now how did that come to be?
Disclaimer: I wish I had a big secret tip or magical formula to share, but I’m afraid there are no shortcuts – none I have found anyway.
In order to learn and get better at something, you have to do the work. To put in countless hours of reading, studying, scribbling, tasting, spitting, rinsing and repeating. Dreams don’t work unless you do, right?
Still, there has to be that dream. You need to be able to imagine a goal, and then figure out if you really, truly want it. No matter how big or small, pursuing something you love and aspire helps immensely to focus, to dig deeper and go further.
That’s when the magic happens and you get to live those moments of completion, gratitude, fulfilment, and a healthy dose of pride.
Yet if you’re anything like me, interwoven with that happiness, there’s a nagging unrest. A feeling there could have been a mistake, or that I must simply have gotten very, very lucky. Fortunately, now the official graduation ceremony is behind us and the word is out there, it is gradually sinking in how much of an achievement this has been. Step by step, I am beginning to realise I have every right to be proud and celebrate this milestone, unapologetically.
At the same time, I am aware of – and very grateful for – the many lucky factors in my life, without which I could not have achieved this. To name but a few:
✨ the love, support, advice and encouragement from my wonderful husband, family and friends;
✨ the fact I had/have parents who realised the value of a down-to-earth upbringing, the importance of education, and who worked very hard to be able to provide us with a good start in life.
✨ being born and raised in a part of the world with wide access to proper food, clean water, affordable healthcare and public education of very good quality. Not to mention wines from most regions and countries in the world;
For those reasons, and many more, I want to share the honour of winning these awards with everyone who contributed to this journey. No matter how big or small, every nudge in the right direction, every kind word, every wine, wine fact or insight you’ve ever shared with me – they all matter. 💖
This is also what I wanted to focus on in my acceptance speech during the graduation ceremony. If you’d care to see my 2.5 minutes of fame, they are saved for posterity on YouTube:
How did I get here?
I have always had (suffered? 🤔) a wide range of interests, but reading, writing and teaching have always been at the heart of it. So not surprisingly I chose to study languages and literature at university. And after my first job in a local independent bookshop, I started working at Howest University of Applied Sciences, one of Flanders’ smallest but most creative and dynamic higher education institutions.
My main hobby at that time, besides reading and writing, was pottering around with herbs. So I enrolled in a two-year evening course in herbalism and aromatherapy, and I planted my first herb garden – activities which have helped me tremendously in finetuning my senses and expanding my mental scent library with all the smells nature has to offer. I also adopted a few semi-feral cats, which – as a bonus, I suppose – taught me about thiol aroma compounds.
Ever since my student days, I’ve loved a good glass of wine with food. But I only really got bitten by the wine bug in the early 2000s, when Dr. K’s dad persuaded us to go to the big annual wine fair in Lille. In all honesty, it didn’t take much convincing, and we continued to go there for many years. It is where we discovered and developed a deep love for the wines from Alsace and Jura. Indirectly the fair also lead us to take an introductory wine course, because we wanted to be better informed. And the rest is history: many years later, in 2012, we enrolled in the three-year Sommelier-Conseil programme, finished the training in Suze-la-Rousse, and moved on to WSET Level 3 right after.
Around that time I began teaching about wine and decided to start a wine writing, education and consultancy business as a side job. I named it Wine & Words, after two of my favourite things. It was a fun project with a calm start, until in 2017 business got a sudden boost when I – to my and probably everyone else’s surprise – was the first woman to win the Belgian Champagne Ambassador competition. I had entered the contest as the underdog, but that didn’t stop me from giving it my all, and I had 15 years of teaching experience on my side. Then a few months later, when I won silver in the European Champagne Ambassador finals and got voted Belgium’s Wine Lady of the Year shortly after, I was suddenly on the map. Assignments started coming in and I decided to reduce my job at the university to a part-time position, to make room for a career in wine.
Since then I’ve been working as an independent wine writer, educator and consultant for an increasing and diverse range of companies, organisations and private customers. And there’s never a dull day at the office: besides classes in the Sommelier-Conseil programme, I teach WSET Level 3 for WineWise, our programme provider in the Benelux; wine masterclasses on a wide range of topics, and workshops on food & wine pairing. I’ve moderated livestreams, I consult for events and am a judge in wine panels and competitions in Belgium and abroad. I write the section about Belgium in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book; have a monthly wine column in Discover Benelux magazine; am an editor at Ken Wijn-Magazine; write copy and create content for online and print publications, for trade bodies and other wine businesses – and for the many wonderful people who are kind enough to read my articles here on the blog, or my (much more frequent) posts on Facebook or Instagram. 🙂🙏
While I was studying for the WSET Diploma, I also studied photography two nights a week, in order to improve my skills in that area. This too has become not just a passion, but a valuable asset in my storytelling and journalism toolbox.
Last but not least, I’m thrilled to say, since it has been several years in the making: my first book on food and wine will be published by Pelckmans Publishers in October this year. The manuscript is as good as finished – just a few more edits to go – and we are moving towards the layout phase, photoshoots and much more. Exciting times!
Now what’s next?
I am of course going to continue learning about wine. It is such a fascinating and far-reaching topic, that I feel I have only scratched the surface. It is a cliché that the more you learn about something, the more you realise how much there is still to learn. But once again, the cliché proves true.
The deeper my understanding about all aspects of wine, the more I will be able to teach and share that knowledge. Communicating about wine, demystifying its secrets and encouraging people to explore and experiment, is what it’s all about for me. Having the chance to inspire people, helping them to become better tasters, and boosting their confidence in their wine knowledge and food pairing abilities, is immensely rewarding.
In line with that: I’ve had a not-so-secret dream for almost a decade. One day I wanted to enrol in the Master of Wine programme, so I would be able to study and learn alongside some of the most qualified, driven and knowledgeable wine professionals in the world. It was a distant dream at first, but obtaining good results for the WSET Diploma and winning the IWSC scholarship, have given me an invaluable nudge in that direction, and I have decided to apply to the Institute this year.
So here I am, with my nose in wine books (and glasses) again, yet again preparing for challenging exams, in order to get access to even more challenging ones. I have no way of knowing if I will get into the programme, and even less so if I will ever make it to the end. But I am going to give it a bloody good try – that much is certain.
So as usual, these are busy times. But my heart is set, my will is strong and I’m looking forward to expanding my knowledge about the wider world of wine. And – a key factor in a decision of this magnitude – my glorious Dr. K is on board with the plan. 💖 And now for making it happen…
Here you can consult the 2023 yearbook, celebrating all 587 graduates of the class of 2021/22. Warm congratulations to all – we did it! 🙌