America's oldest wine school turns 40


I first met Harriet Lembeck and her husband Bill 39 years ago when we were all on the Kloster Eberbach German wine course. (Bill’s work involved prosthetic limbs and gave rise to the memorable remark by Harriet, ‘Bill never believed in God until he tried to create a knee.')

I thought then that she was a well-established wine educator in New York but now realise she was only just starting out because she tells me that Harriet Lembeck’s Wine Program and Spirits Program celebrates its 40th anniversary this month. She claims it is the longest-running wine and spirits class in the US, dating from the 1940s when it was initiated by the late Harold G Grossman, author of Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. Harriet, now a Certified Wine Educator (CWE) and Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS), was a protégée of Grossman and took over the class after his death. Between Grossman and Lembeck, the class has actually been running for over 70 years. (One can only imagine how much change there has been in the New York wine scene since the war years…) As you can see from the picture above, the best she can muster, she is not exactly skilled in the art of self-promotion.

Today classes are held in the Lembecks’ Rose Hill Historic House (pictured here), an 18th-century townhouse on 29th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan whose mysterious origins you can read about here. The class moved here from a lengthy run in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where for a long time it was the only wine and spirits class in town.

Students sit down for classes, complete with lecture and tastings. They include open-book quizzes which are corrected, graded and returned to students (Lembeck is naturally didactic). There are also practice blind tastings with wines and/or spirits from all over the world. It’s all pretty serious rather than a leisure interest for bankers. A record of attendance is kept and certificates recognised by the wine trade are awarded to those who complete the class work. Classes also prepare students for the Certification examinations given by the Society of Wine Educators (so presumably Lembeck is a competitor of the courses offered by the WSET).

Lembeck’s Wine Program costs $995 and runs for 10 evening sessions (20 hours) once a week. It begins this anniversary year next Monday 21 September. The Spirits Program costs $400 and runs for four evening sessions (8 hours) once a week, and begins on Wednesday 30 September.