Every January the Wine and Spirit Education Trust holds a starry graduation ceremony in London's historic Guildhall to which successful students fly in from all over the world. Our very own Emily Percival was there to collect her Diploma with her husband Tom.
This year, after a succession of particularly studious members of the wine trade trooped up on to the stage to collect their awards, something really rather extraordinary was announced. The Vintners' Scholarship, the annual final award to the Diploma student with the highest marks, went to someone who has no direct connection with the wine trade at all. Winner Moritz Mueller, pictured above with Master of the Vintners' Company Nick Arkell (left) and Steven Spurrier (right), is a vice president in the capital markets division of Santander bank in London.
He was born in Germany, so English is not even his native language, although he has been in the UK for 10 years now. I also met his wife who seemed delighted, if a little battered, by the impact of supporting her spouse through all the studying and tasting necessary to be accorded this accolade. He let slip that the Master of Wine qualification might just be in his sights eventually.
This was the first year that Steven Spurrier was honorary president of the WSET, taking over from popular Gérard Basset OBE MW MS MBA who succeeded me in this role. Michael Broadbent MW and Hugh Johnson OBE preceded me.
Steven presented Sarah-Jane Evans MW, past chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine, food and wine writer and Spanish specialist, with the second Outstanding Alumni Award, sponsored by none other than JancisRobinson.com. In her acceptance speech she congratulated head of WSET Ian Harris on his recently announced MBE, to be officially awarded at Buckingham Palace in June.
One of many statistics that intrigued me was that a whole third of all WSET students nowadays come from outside the wine trade. The WSET saw particular growth in the US last year, but China (including Hong Kong) is their third most important market. The WSET now has 2,500 educators worldwide. Of these just eight centres were chosen as finalists for Educator of the Year, including TS Wine Academy, an offshoot of Taste Spirit and the educational body run by Young Shi, my Chinese representative. The unanimous winner was Eno Cultura of Brazil which began operating only in 2013 but has initiated several social projects there.