Christina Goodman credits the Napa Valley College wine program for landing her first winery job — and in helping her advance her career by taking industry wine exams, including the difficult Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) exam.
“I leaned heavily on the knowledge I obtained at Napa Valley College,” said Goodman. “Passing the WSET gave me an edge when applying for a job at the winery where I currently work. The CEO of the company asked me about my experience with WSET and I was able to speak about it.
“Doing WSET is voluntary. You don’t need to do it to obtain a degree, but I think employers appreciate having people who are proactive in expanding their skills,” she said. “I don’t know if I would refer to myself as an expert, but I am on the path to being a specialist in wine.”
Goodman is a good example of how studying wine at NVC can help students become certified experts, according to instructors who teach the intensive new classes.
“The Viticulture and Winery Technology (VWT) program at NVC has always done a great job of general wine education in viticulture, enology and marketing/sales,” said Napa wine marketing expert Paul Wagner, who teaches about wine from Spain and Portugal.
“However, these new intensive classes on wines from Germany, France, Italy, Iberia and the rest of the world are exactly what serious students of wine need to prepare for the kinds of exams they will face in the future,” he said.
Chloe Lefler, an instructor at the college specializing in the wines of Italy, said NVC students will receive private wine school-quality instruction at a fraction of the cost.
“Students will learn all 20 wine-producing regions of Italy, as well as the key appellations and grape varieties,” said Lefler. “The level of knowledge provided in the advanced level of Wines of Italy is comparable to an Italian Wine Specialist course in a private sommelier program,” she said.
Marbue Marke, winemaker for Caldwell Vineyards, said students who have taken his class at the college have gone on to pass the advanced wine course at the Wine Institute.
“At NVC, we give you a tasting system to help you decide on your own,” said Marke, who has been a winemaker for 20 years. “We give you the opportunity to practice tasting wines from different regions. We practice the fundamentals, which is what the sommelier test is about.
“Our courses are practical, as we touch and feel the grapes and learn about the winemaking. The students can taste any region they want, but they also learn about the soil, the grape and the impact of the winemaking practices.”
John Clews, who has been in the wine business for 30 years, mostly in winemaking, was trained at Folie Family Wines and worked as a winemaker at Kuleto Estate and Merus Wines in Napa Valley.
He teaches Wines of the World at Napa Valley College.
“A novice taking all these classes would learn an enormous amount. Forty percent of the students I teach are in the wine industry, in marketing or cellar masters who know what they are doing in their wineries. But they want to learn more because the more they know, the more fascinating wine becomes.”
And, he said, the classes are inexpensive.
“I don’t think you can beat the price. We have a standard class fee and a $75 tasting fee that allows you to taste 36 wines while learning about them, discussing the positives and the negatives, and the styles. For two bucks per wine you get an educational setting, and a consolidated academic background in grape varieties, viticulture and enology.”
Michael Weis, with a 20-year tenure as Groth’s winemaker, teaches Wines of California at Napa Valley College, with a focus on Napa Valley wines.
“Ideally, the class is for those who have some knowledge of wine, but there are no prerequisites for the class. We begin with the chemistry of wine in the first four sessions, then the history of California wine, and finally, the serious stuff, the American Viticultural Areas.”
Another NVC graduate, LaJoy Toney, was a culinary student who fell in love with wine while taking the Wines of the World Class in spring of 2016.
“This class opened up many avenues for learning,” said Toney. “I took the introductory course in March 2016. I feel as though the knowledge that I gained through Wines of the World really helped with the test.
Toney is also studying for the Certified Wine Specialist test and preparing to take the Court of Sommelier course in December.
“I believe the VWT classes offered at NVC really help students gain the necessary knowledge to set them up for whatever career path in wine they take.”
Paul Gospodarczyk, the Napa Valley College Estate Winery winemaker who developed the VWT curriculum, said the wine classes are geared to attract “aspirational” workers interested in learning more about marketing and sales.
“My hope is that, by the end of the day, they will successfully pass the wine trade tests on their own,” he said.
“If you want to jump-start your approach to taking these industry exams, NVC is the place to start your training,” he said. “Anyone who is interested in a career in wine will be well served to have one of these certifications.
“But, we are also seeing a number of consumers take our classes because they love our subject. What makes it even more efficient, we are the only public institution offering this kind of education, and the costs of these classes are significantly lower than what you might find in a private school.”