Six years ago, father and son, Jurg and Christian Oggenfuss and Catherine Bugue founded the Napa Valley Wine Academy. On Jan. 23, Christian and Bugue were in London’s Guild Hall accepting the WSET’s Global Educator of the Year 2016 award for the academy.
On accepting the Wine & Spirits Education Trust award, Bugue said wine luminaries, including Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson and Steve Spurrier, were seated in the front row of the hall.
“To have these luminaries watch us accept the award was pretty powerful, very special,” Bugue said. “It is very competitive, there are so many great schools out there.”
Eight WSET Approved Programme Providers from throughout the world were nominated for the prestigious award, including Spurrier’s famous Paris school, three from the United Kingdom and one from China. The Napa Valley Wine Academy was the sole nominee from the United States.
In a news release announcing the nominees, Ian Harris, CEO of WSET, said, “WSET is experiencing phenomenal growth and it is our Approved Programme Providers and dedicated educators across the world that allow us to meet the demand for wine and spirits qualifications. While we highly appreciate the work of all our educators, the selected nominees have truly gone above and beyond and we look forward to celebrating the winner in January.”
During an interview at the school last week, Bugue said the competition “is very competitive, there are so many great schools out there. They (the judges) really appreciated that we are so energetic, so vibrant, the marketing that Christian does, the social media and the outreach.”
Additionally, she added the school joins with the Napa Valley wine industry in providing the education. “We’ll have a class and we’ll use our community, like Cathy Corison, who will have us come to the winery and she’ll even have students shovel out a tank if it’s harvest time,” Bugue said.
She called the hands-on education “very powerful” and added, “Our last class we took to Cathy Corison, there was somebody from Brazil, from Hungary, from China. They come from all over the world for brand Napa Valley and our school. That’s incredible.”
In six years, the partners have created an education system offering classes in Napa, Santa Barbara, Denver, Cleveland, Nashville, Tampa, Orlando and Las Vegas as well as online classes.
In 2016, some 700-plus students took classes in Napa, whether the class was an introductory two-hour class to certification classes that last a week. Throughout all of their campuses and online classes, they educated some 1,800 people. The staff includes 30 full and part-time people, both administration and instructors.
Five Masters of Wine currently instruct and host webinars for the NVWA: Peter Marks, Christy Canterbury, Mary Margaret McCamic, Matt Deller and Tim Hanni. Additionally, Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser conducts SommDay Workshops at the academy.
Christian Oggenfuss said, “It is a great honor to be nominated for Global Educator of the Year across all the markets that WSET serves around the world.” He estimated there are 650-plus WSET Approved Programme Providers that offer the WSET curriculum.
“Each year the award goes to the school that has excelled and outperformed any other of their schools, which is a combination of number of students enrolled, the performance of those students and the examinations,” he said. Additionally, the school is judged on its innovations and how it is contributing to the “quality of education for WSET.”
Beyond educating individuals, the Napa Valley Wine Academy works with companies and corporations, including Southern Wine & Spirits and wineries such as Darioush, Duckhorn and PlumpJack to train their employees.
Oggenfuss said, “A lot of the corporate groups that we work with see education not only as a way to have a more informed sales staff but also as a way to have those employees want to stay with that organization. Often when you ask employees why they left, it’s usually not because of the money, it’s because they don’t see they have any opportunity for growth. And education is part of the growth.
“Investing in your employees is the right thing to do, not only to improve your bottom line but it also improves employee morale. We feel very lucky to be a part of that,” he added.
As to future plans, Oggenfuss said the company will continue to build its online offering of courses and will seek to grow across the United States.
“It has always been our mission to open up wine education to someone no matter what their location,” Oggenfuss said. “As I always say, we’re based in the Napa Valley but we have a global vision and a global approach to wine education.”
He added, “This award has fueled us with more energy and more passion for what we do, it’s a great validation.”
Bugue has been in the wine business full-time since 2002 and before that, she said she would go to wine tasting classes and seminars and make wine presentations for her friends, “just because I loved it.” Prior to joining the Napa Valley Wine Academy, Bugue was an account executive at Balzac Communications and Marketing, based in Napa. Additionally, for the past nine years, she has served as the writer for the St. Helena Star/Napa Valley Vintners tasting panel.
Oggenfuss has been in the wine industry for the past 20 years, doing everything from retail to distribution, to being a general manager and marketing director for different wineries. In his career, he has worked for Treasury Wine Estates, PlumpJack, Benzinger Family Winery and V. Sattui.