Amy met Morgan Neufeld one Wednesday morning in June at Camerata at Paulie’s where she was attending Banfi’s Cru Artisan College. Friendly and bubbly, Morgan was in the middle of her Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3 certification course and attending the “College” to learn more about the Luxury Selections of the Banfi portfolio from the artisan winemakers who crafted them. During the event, she told Amy about weekly tastings of the Houston Sommelier Association, and invited her to the next meeting. Morgan now attends our monthly First Friday tastings, and recently learned she passed her WSET Level 3 certification examination. That is no small feat!
We are always interested in opportunities for advanced Wine Study, and we had talked to James King, the owner of The Texas Wine School about his program. But we thought it might be fun to hear from one of his students, and someone in the professional wine trade, about her experience. So without further ado… Morgan Neufeld.
WSET Level 3 through the Texas Wine School
by Morgan Neufeld
It was late September of 2013 when I first walked in to the very unpretentious, unassuming, modest building of The Texas Wine School. It smelled of brand new molding, wood, concrete and paint. The stairs leading up to the classroom were not even finished yet, and there was evidence of continued construction on each stair. The classroom was well-lit, the plain white plastic folding tables were strategically placed in a U-shape, perfectly arranged for the ensuing weekly classroom discussions and debates, and nearly every inch of the stark white walls was covered in maps of practically every major grape-growing and wine-making region in the world. Situated in front of each chair was a set of four ISO-standard tasting glasses, along with an individual spit cup for each student, and one or two communal dump buckets for the wine. This was my first introduction to the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 1 Certification classroom, led by James King of The Texas Wine School.
The WSET is a British-based, global certification that also offers long-distance independent courses if you are not fortunate enough to live in a city that has a certified WSET instructor and school. The live classroom setting where student collaboration, blind tastings, and group discussions were par for the course definitely helped me in my understanding of regional wines. Each class featured tastings of 8 or more wines, sometimes from a designated region, sometimes from anywhere James felt like taking us, although they typically followed the curriculum focus.
Coming into the course, I had just entered the intriguing world of wine and was thirsty to advance my knowledge as soon as possible. I had met James King a couple of times at a wine store I had begun working at while trying to break into the wine industry, and I was impressed at his laid-back and down-to-earth attitude, which, let’s face it, is not always common in the world of wine. I had received several recommendations from others in the industry regarding The Texas Wine School, and I have to say I have no regrets in now successfully achieving my Levels 1, 2, and 3 WSET Certifications through James and the school in less than a year.
The Level 3 course is definitely not one to go at lightly, however. One of my classmates at one point towards the end of the course said “I passed my BAR exam not long ago, and the BARs don’t hold a candle to Level 3!” There are “no holds barred” in this exam, it seems; the course itself covers the viticulture and viniculture of every region from Bordeaux to Uruguay and Hungary, Old World to New World, vineyard management to winemaking techniques, fortified wines to spirits… and any of it can be on the exam in the form of a multiple choice question or one of the many short essay questions. I must admit that I neglected quite a few relationships during this time, as I feel like nearly every free moment was spent with my nose in the book or writing flashcards (those flashcards are probably the equivalent of perfect CliffsNotes for the book). But in the end, and once I could finally breathe after results came in two months after I took the Level 3 exam, those relationships were quickly rekindled as I resumed my natural happy state. Bottom line: the sacrifices were well worth the outcome.
Oh, and I should add that The Texas Wine School is now beautifully finished, at least the lobby and staircase, with very rustic, wine-friendly décor. The classroom, however, is still true to the unpretentious, modest, neutral, “wine-serious” atmosphere that I have come to appreciate every time I walk into it.
After being inspired by her brother-in-law, who is a winemaker for Gilbert Cellars and JBNeufeld wines in Yakima, Washington, along with her 10+ years of sales experience, Morgan decided it would be apt to pursue a career in selling wine, which led her to her current job as an on-premise Fine Wine Sales Representative at Glazer’s Distributors, where she has been since December 2013. She loves the fact that there is something new to learn about wine every single day, and that the opportunities to do so by working for a distributor are abundant. Her next pursuit is the Certified Wine Specialist (CSW), provided by Glazer’s continuing education program. She also hopes to begin leading blind tasting classes at The Texas Wine School in the next couple of months (independent of the WSET courses). Favorite varietals: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Zinfandel (Lodi), Bobal, and Chenin Blanc (Vouvray).
Editor’s Note: James King opened The Texas Wine School in Houston in the Fall of 2010. Last Fall he moved to a larger space at 2437 Bartlett Street, Houston, 77098 above French Country Wines. Current offerings include WSET Levels 1-3, and Society of Wine Education, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Specialist and Sake certifications, as well as Wine Foundation courses and Wine Tasting classes. The school also operates courses in Austin and conducts corporate wine tasting events. For more information visit the Texas Wine School website here.